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Epiphany 7A RCL February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Leviticus, a book of laws which, together with the Book of Deuteronomy, provides guidelines for how to live together in community. We are called to be holy. Holiness has to do with the way we lead our lives. Here in this reading,  we have some very clear values which we can use to shape our behavior.

When we are harvesting, we are to leave some of the crop for the poor and the alien. God’s law always carries a concern for those who are vulnerable. If some of the crop is left, they will have something to eat.

We are not to steal. We are to be honest. We are to treat the disabled with respect.  We are called to deal justly with others. We do not slander people. We are not to hate our neighbor, If we have a problem with someone, we are called to go and try to resolve the issue with our neighbor, not to let hatred fester until it boils up into something much worse.  In sum, we are called to love our neighbor. These are amazing thoughts when we realize that they date back thousands of years.

If we were to summarize these laws, we could say that they call us to have concern for the vulnerable, to be honest and fair, to respect others, to seek reconciliation and understanding, and to love our neighbors as God loves us.  These laws, written thousands of years ago, are good advice for us today.

In our epistle for today, Paul is switching his metaphors. Last week he was describing himself as a gardener or a farmer. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. Now he is describing himself as a master builder. But the foundation must always be our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wisely counsels us not to boast about human leaders, whether Peter or Paul or Apollos.  We are all one in Christ, and we all belong to Christ.

We can only imagine what might have happened if the people in Corinth who thought they were so wise had gotten on their knees and asked God for guidance. If they had listened, God would have led them to enter into a process of reconciliation with their brothers and sisters and to treat them with respect.

In today’s gospel, we are continuing with the Beatitudes.

Our reading begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus is referring to what is called the law of “retaliation in kind” as described in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, which were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.  Until these laws were written, if someone took out your eye, you would gather a group of people and go and kill the person and perhaps members of his family.  The law of an eye for an eye was designed to reduce the amount of violence.  So, if someone took out your eye, you could not simply go over and kill him. You could go to the judge and he would give a sentence allowing equal retribution.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies goes far beyond the law of retaliation in kind and far beyond out usual concepts of justice.  One note of caution: we need to keep in mind that this passage of scripture is not intended to deal with situations of abuse as we know them today. Jesus would never tell a battered woman to turn the other cheek. This passage does not apply to any situation of abuse. In those situations, our priority is to get the victim to a safe place and to make sure the perpetrator can no longer do harm to anyone.

Jesus calls us to be perfect.  But we need to define the word accurately. The Greek is teleios. Bishop Fred Borsch says, that teleios means “to come to the goal or purpose, that is, to become what one was created for, to reach full growth, potential, maturity. It is incredibly difficult to love our enemies, but this is what God made us to do. Bishop Borsch reminds us that Archbishop Desmond Tutu told white South African leader P. W. Botha that they are brothers and members of the same human family.  To be able to think and act in that way when one has been subjected to something like apartheid—that is what God is calling us to do.

Borsch writes, “Jesus tells of a different will of God and so a different way of life for those who would be children of this God and reflect their parent’s character.” (Proclamation 4, p. 52.)

The values reflected in our readings today are embodied in the promises we make in our baptismal vows. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we were made for. This is what Christ’s kingdom is all about.  So these are the values of kingdom communities, of shalom communities. These are ways of living together which open the way to God’s shalom.

With God’s help, we try to live these promises. When we fail, we ask forgiveness and begin again. Why do we do this? Because this blueprint for life, these Beatitudes, are the only thing that makes sense to us. The new life in Christ means that we are becoming one with him and that we are called to become more and more like him. And slowly, slowly, it is happening.  We are being transformed.

We gather, we pray together, we study the word together, we share Eucharist, we are fed by him, our faith is nurtured. and we are becoming one with him and with each other.

That’s the kind of community Paul is talking about. Thanks be to God, we are being given the gift of that community.  We are becoming what we were created for, not through any effort of our own, but by God’s grace.  Amen.

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