Readings for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: LV 19: 1-2, 17-18; PS 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; I COR 3: 16-23; MT 5: 38-48.
We're living at a time characterized by military crisis; wouldn't you agree? I mean we're still in Afghanistan (our country's longest war ever). Can you tell me why? We're also fighting in Iraq and have been doing that one way or another since at least 1990. Then there's Syria and Yemen -- not to mention droning in Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else? And on top of that there's saber-rattling about what Russia does in its backyard, and even about "our" rights to float battleships in the South China Sea -- more than 7000 miles away from our shores. We spend more on war than all the other nations of the world combined, and are in the process of modernizing our nuclear weapons arsenal that our "leaders" once pledged to abolish.
And what has it all accomplished? Can you tell me that? Well, while it may make arms manufacturers richer and happier, here's a short list of its downsides:
- It kills millions of people -- yes more than a million in Iraq alone since 2003!
- It threatens the very future of the human race.
- It contributes mightily to environmental destruction,
- And to global warming as the U.S. military remains the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world
- As well as to the creation of an unprecedented refugee problem,
- It appears to motivate terrorists to respond in kind.
- All of which seems to make us less safe rather than more so.
Doesn't that seem crazy? Why do we put up with it? I mean to spend more than a billion dollars each day on war and to have absolutely nothing positive to show for it? NOTHING! And then instead of facing that colossal failure, to pledge to do even more of the same -- forever and ever?
I'm hard put to think of anything crazier. And scandalously, it's a nation that claims to be Christian that's doing all of that -- in the name of God and even of Jesus. The Muslims would have a hard time even remotely approaching that level of religiously-motivated violence!
Say, here's an idea: why don't we try following the actual teachings of Jesus as found in today's Liturgy of the Word? I didn't say "the teachings of the Bible" in general, but the teachings of Jesus.
I mean, in today's Gospel, the Master takes pains to distinguish between the Bible's warlike vengeful God and its Compassionate One. Jesus specifically rejects the one and endorses the other. For Matthew that rejection and endorsement was momentous -- as significant as Moses reception of the Ten Commandments from his God, Yahweh. That's why Matthew [in contrast to Luke's equivalent "Sermon on the Plain" (LK 6:17-49)] has Jesus deliver his "sermon" on a mountain (5:1-7:27). The evangelist is implicitly comparing Moses on Mt. Sinai and Jesus on "the Mount."
In any case, through a series of antitheses ("You have heard . .. but I say to you . . ."), Jesus contrasts his understanding of the Law with more traditional interpretations. The Mosaic Law demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but Jesus' Law commands:
" Turning the other cheek
" Going the extra mile
" Generosity with adversaries
" Open-handedness to beggars
" Lending without charging interest
" Love of enemies
Matthew concludes that if we want to be followers of Jesus, we must also be merciful and compassionate ourselves. As today's reading from Leviticus says, we are called to be holy as God is holy. Or as Jesus puts it, perfect as God is perfect.