7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” These are the words spoken by the Lord to Moses as recorded in the 19th chapter of the Book of Leviticus. They lie at the very heart of the Holiness Code found in that book, a magnificent collection of injunctions on how God’s people are to live in obedience to God’s will in their personal behaviour, as a family or in national life, a Code which has the constant refrain, “I am the Lord”. So intimately involved is the God of Israel with his people that their way of life should be the perfect reflection of God’s own being. Sin, as Adam and Eve soon discovered, was nothing more than the turning aside from that relationship to go their own way and do their own thing independent of the God who made them, loved them and had given them everything they could possibly need or want to be happy and fulfilled. By their self-will they usurped God’s authority and distorted the beauty and goodness of life on earth that had been created in the image and likeness of God.
In every age God raised up patriarchs, prophets and kings to call his people back to that original state of holiness in which they had been created. Yet those same servants often behaved unworthily, just think of Moses or David, and God’s message went unheard. There could be no remedy to this state of affairs, no hope, no salvation, until God himself took the initiative in the person of his Divine Son and took upon himself our human nature becoming Man by the working of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, “God was reconciling the world unto himself.” It is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who speaks to us in the Sermon on the Mount. The message he proclaims differs little from the message spoken through Moses, and yet there is a radical, fundamental difference. It is no longer a sinful man who utters the word of God, no longer the blind leading the blind, but the Messiah himself, Jesus Christ, who can give us the grace we need to fulfil what he asks of us, for he alone can fulfil his own word.
When Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you: in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven,” we have to take those words together with what St Paul says to the Corinthians, “the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.” And again, when Jesus says, “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we have to take that with the words of St Paul, “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” We are not called upon to imitate God or to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, but something more radically spiritual than that, something more exciting too. We are not actors on a stage or puppets on a string; we are God’s sons and daughters, created in his image and likeness to be like him in every way, that is, to be holy as he is holy and perfect as he is perfect. This is the big difference between the Old and the New Testament, between the Old and the New Covenant. Jesus does not dispense with the Law, but asks for a deeper observance that comes from the heart and gets to reason for why its demands were formulated, namely that God is the God of love, a love “made visible in Christ Jesus,” for “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
St Paul also tells the Corinthians, in a beautifully succinct phrase, “We have the mind of Christ.” Not only do we belong to Christ, but we have the mind of Christ and we are the Body of Christ, he is our head. We are also temples of God, filled with the Holy Spirit. If all that is true, and we believe it is, then the Sermon on the Mount is undoubtedly a new Sinai, a new Decalogue, but Jesus is infinitely more than a new Moses. He is the Word of God through whom all things were made and in whom all creation is redeemed. The Sermon is a Christological proclamation of the Church’s faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God, our Lord and Saviour, for whom nothing is impossible, neither in himself nor in his members. It is the very essence of the Gospel.
Can you see, then, what an enormous leap forward in faith we are invited to make by our heavenly Father and why he sent his Son among us to teach with authority and power? What Jesus asks of us today isn’t impossible because, as he himself shows us, God doesn’t ask of us more than he is prepared to give us. As he said to St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Now yesterday’s Gospel was St Mark’s version of the Transfiguration, in which we heard that when the vision of heaven was over, the three disciples saw “only Jesus”. Only Jesus! Today’s readings invite us to do the same, to see only Jesus. If we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, if we live in him as he lives in us, then nothing will be impossible. We will most surely love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. And we can begin right now, at this Mass, today