Readings (Year A):
Leviticus 19:1 – 2, 17 – 18
Psalms 103:1 – 2, 3 – 4, 8, 10, 12 – 13
1 Corinthians 3:16 – 23
Matthew 5:38 – 48
Reflection: Be perfect as God is perfect
“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” So begins the first reading for today. But what does it mean to be holy? The word usually means to be set apart, unique, sacred. A holy object is set aside for a particular religious use. This certainly makes sense for the people of God. The story of the Pentateuch is about the Israelites being set apart from the people around them. But to what end? The rest of the passage makes it clear that at least part of the reason the people of God need to be set apart is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This leaves open the question of how we love ourselves. The passage in Leviticus makes it clear that loving and correcting your neighbor, without incurring sin, makes up part of what it means to love ourselves, but the apostle Paul takes it further. He reminds us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. This elucidates not only what it means to love ourselves, but what it means to be holy. We are set aside to love each other, to correct, to be fools for Christ, and, most importantly, to become temples for his Spirit.
Temples are physical spaces that are set aside for spiritual realities. In the Mass, not only do time and eternity meet, but so do heaven and earth. And we, those who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, are also a meeting place of time and eternity, of heaven and earth. There is a notion, often ascribed to the “Celtic” or Irish Christians, of something called “thin places,” where heaven begins to peek through. We, each of us, are a living thin place, a place where the Kingdom of God, if we allow it, breaks through into the earth.
Jesus, in the gospel reading, tells us what the consequences of this will be. In Leviticus, Moses seems to give priority to his own people, but Jesus tells us that this love, this holiness, as he will call it, this perfection, is required in our interactions with those who oppose us as well. Our neighbor now comes to include our enemies, both those who actively oppress us, as the Romans did the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, and those whom we oppress or think poorly of, as the Jewish people did the people of Samaria. Jesus makes this clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan and in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The gospel message, Christ is telling us, is for everyone, not for the elect, not only for those in power, but even for those who are other than us. Because in the end, no one is other.
And so Jesus takes the passage from Leviticus and further unfolds it, calling us to divine perfection. God is holy without utility; he is perfect without becoming. By his grace, we are called, in the foolishness of Christ, to be perfect as God is perfect.