Homily for February 23

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

What’s the hardest thing that’s ever been asked of you?
And who asked you?
(What names, what faces come to mind?)

It might have been something your parents expected of you,
or something your spouse, or your family, or your work asked of you.
It might have been an expectation that you do some particular thing.
Or it might have been a request that you refrain
from doing something you wanted to do.

So, what’s the hardest thing ever asked of me?
Who was it who asked?
And how did I do (or how am I doing) in responding to that expectation?
Those questions come to mind because today’s scriptures are filled
with “hard sayings,” with the Lord’s expectations of us,
with the “hard things” God asks of us.

Think back to what we just heard in the scriptures:
- take no revenge
- cherish no grudge against anyone
- love your enemies
- love your neighbor as yourself
- offer no resistance to one who is evil
- when someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well
- pray for those who persecute you.

(Again, what names, what faces come to mind?)
These are hard demands and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in some ways,
they overlap with the hard expectations others have had of us
in our day-to-day lives and relationships.
In the nitty-gritty of how we live with one another
long-held grudges and a desire for revenge are commonplace.
But the Lord says we have no right to either.

You and I might not have real enemies in our lives
but almost all of us have known relationships colored by
anger, spite, resentment and even hate.
But Jesus says we’re to find a way to love precisely those
towards whom we harbor these feelings.

Virtually all of us would agree that we have a responsibility
to care for our neighbors in need.
But Jesus says we should love those in need as we love ourselves.
Just a quick tally of what we spent two months ago on extras,
on luxuries for ourselves and our loved ones at Christmas,
- compared to what we gave to those
in need of food, clothing and housing -
reveals how hard are Jesus’ words here
and how we measure up to them – or fail to.

And how about all that cheek-slapping business –
and turning away from it?
What about Jesus’ words here: 
Offer no resistance to one who is evil. 
Not even to someone who is evil!
The translation here from the Greek doesn’t serve us well.* 
In the ancient text the word is antistenai which means
“to resist violently, to revolt or rebel with violence.”
Jesus is saying, then,
“Offer no antistenai, no violent resistance to one who does evil.”
In other words, “do not mirror evil.”
Do not repay evil with evil.

I suppose in some ways we never grow up.
We should learn this as kids.
When a parent comes upon one child striking another child
and scolds the hitter,
the most common response is “But he hit me first!”

Having evil done to us does not give us license to do evil.

Jesus tells kids to find another way.
And he tells us grownups to find an alternative to violence, too.
And yes, what Jesus teaches here
is as true for individuals in their private lives
as it is for nations on the world’s stage.

So in addition to all the hard things expected of us
by family, spouses, work and community,
the Lord has exacting demands to make on all of us as well.
And even those we hear today are not the hardest.
The greatest, hardest expectation the Lord has of each of us is this:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”

Those eight words sum up the whole of the gospel.
And that message is perfectly imaged
in the Cross that hangs over our prayer.
For this is how Christ has loved us:
- he cherished no grudge against us
whose sins he carried on his back
- he loved his neighbor and even his enemies more than himself,
more than his own life;
- he offered no violence in return to the violence done to him,
in fact – he offered no resistance at all
- and indeed, on the Cross, he prayed for those who persecuted him:
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

His love for us on the Cross he now shares with us at this altar
where he feeds us with the same Body and Blood he offered for us
in his suffering and death.
If we are faithful to his love for us, we will find the strength and courage
to live the hard sayings we hear today.


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