Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2023

Sister Jan Ginzkey, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 18-19; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

The three readings today illustrate the progression of consciousness and spiritual growth of the people of God. The book of Leviticus Chapters 17 – 23 are considered the Holiness Code. Today’s reading refers to the entire people of God and even the land. God says, “Be holy, for I your God am holy.” Together they are to be holy and righteous. The call to holiness is a call to imitate God. Holiness here is based on relationships, with the tribe and with God. Holiness is an attitude of the heart.

It is impossible for humans to mirror or imitate God. We can only strive to live justly, act mercifully and love tenderly. Leviticus gives common, even daily examples of how to be holy like God. As a people do not bear hatred. Do not take revenge or hold a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. All of these admonitions refer only to the Israelite people. In a sense this was the code to protect and support their tribe.

Saint Paul encourages the Corinthians to grow more deeply in their spiritual lives. He instructs them that they are not just holy because of their daily efforts and behaviors. The Christian community, the body of Christ, is the temple of God. All tribes and religions considered the Temple to be holy, sacred, and reverenced. We are holy because God is dwelling within the body of Christ. We are the temple and are called to be holy.

In the Gospel Jesus is teaching from the Torah. He refers to Exodus,  Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The Jewish people were aware of the laws and directives found in the Torah. The eye for an eye or measure for measure laws were to prevent disproportionate retribution or the cycle of violence and revenge. (Exod. 21:23-34)

Jesus gives some clever and humorous examples to illustrate how his followers and we are to be holy, to love our enemies and invite them to become more human.

The first example addresses physical abuse. For a right-handed person to hit your right cheek, it is a back handed slap. In the time of Jesus this was a gesture to demean a person. If you turned your head the abuser would need to strike with an open palm, a gesture symbolizing that the two people are equal. Sister Mary McGlone explains Jesus is really saying, ”Don’t let anyone slap you as if you were beneath them. Turn the other cheek to say, I am your equal and more because I will not lower myself to your standard.”

The second example is about legal action. Exod. 22:25-26 states, “If you take your neighbors cloak as a pledge, you must return it before sunset; for this is their only covering.” The tunic is the garment worn closest to the body. Jesus is saying if a creditor demands the neighbors tunic, and the neighbor offers their cloak as well, they would be naked in the court of law demonstrating how the justice system leaves the poor naked while awarding the rich with what they don’t need. The creditor would be shamed and have to ask the debtor to take back their garments.

The third example Jesus gives is about forced labor. A Roman soldier could demand a citizen of an occupied country to carry his gear for one mile only. If the person offered to carry the gear for another mile, the soldier risked being punished. The soldier would be embarrassed by having to refuse the offered favor.

In Deuteronomy, the terms of giving, borrowing, tithing and generosity are mandated. Every Jew knew these were principle ways of showing gratitude to God. To not respond to a neighbor’s request would be insulting God. Jesus is telling the crowd and us to be as generous as God. For everything is a gift from God. We need to express our gratitude by sharing God’s gifts with others.

Jesus’ final challenge for his followers, which we proclaim we are, is to love our enemies. Pray for our persecutors. The examples he gave above illustrate how to respond to injustices with dignity, self-respect, and nonviolence. Our example of nonviolent resistance deepens the call to holiness through relationships. This requires a deeper spirituality and a greater understanding of the relationships between people and with God.

Jesus is calling us to go beyond the basic sense of human relationships; family, friends, and people who share our values and beliefs. We are to expand our hospitality and love to those on the margins, those society ignores. This is the way to true holiness. For God tells us, “Be holy for I your God am holy.”


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s