7 Sunday of the Year A
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
According to the old law of the Old Testament, a person who causes offense must be punished depending on the degree of trespasses. If a person injures another person, restitution must be made in compliance with the law of retaliation: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Lv 24:20; Mt 5:38). It means that if someone breaks your tooth, you can break his. If someone pulls your eye, you can pull his. However, you cannot injure his lips or nose. That is what the Latin phrase says: Do ut des. That means you do what they did to you. Jesus came to reject the law of retaliation and teach his disciples the law of mercy and forgiveness.
The law of love surpasses the law of justice and calls for mercy and forgiveness. For the Jews at the time of Jesus, love of enemy was a paradox and unthinkable. They have been taught to hate an enemy and to do harm to him when occasion comes. Jesus came to teach his disciples: Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors (Mt 5:44). However, Jesus does not require us to love our enemies to the same degree of love, which we reserve for our relatives and friends. One cannot love one’s enemy with a kind of love derived from our heart and impelled by our natural tendency. Yet Jesus told us to love our enemy with a kind of love derived from a supernatural motive and make a decision not to hate our enemy, but to pray for the salvation of our enemy.
That is the characteristic of Christianity and the way to perfection. The command of the Lord in today’s gospel must be emphasized when human beings have a tendency to be locked into gain seeking syndrome in society. The good work of the human person often aims at return and response: I scratch your back and you scratch mine. When Trang Vuong forgave Duong Giao, he aimed that the latter would remember him and protect him in the future. The reason Quan Cong forgave Tao Thao was to remember a past favor from the later. What Jesus taught us today is a good work must be disinterested. A benevolent person must be ready to welcome the unfortunate, without being concerned about receiving a return. Jesus himself gave us an example when he taught us the lesson of forgiveness to an enemy. When hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed asking the Father to forgive those who had persecuted him: Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing (Lk 23:34).
In a competitive society, one finds it hard to follow Jesus’ teaching as to become perfect. One would be considered foolish and lost if one lives according to Jesus’ teaching in the gospel. However, that is the difference between man’s wisdom and the wisdom of God. Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthian wrote: For the wisdom of this world is absurdity with God’ (1Cor 3:19). If there are those individuals who harbor resentment, there are also individuals holding grudges depending on personal disposition, family, education and society. Resentment is similar to a chain that ties people down. Resentment also has detrimental influence on mentality, emotional life, health and job and social life of man. It is not necessary to find enemy from far. Hatred can be found even in the family members and friends, due to money, infidelity and broken promise. How can we apply God’s word of forgiveness to hatred situation in the family? Those hurt feelings among family members must be healed so that family members can see and talk to one another. Then we pray for those who have caused this problem. God’s words in today readings demand us to show mercy and forgiveness. How can we forgive those who have received favors from us, yet betrayed us? However, that is what Jesus requires his disciples to do.
As Christ’s true disciples, we begin to offer the sacrifice of the mass with a prayer for forgiveness in a spirit of repentance. At the beginning of the mass, we have an opportunity to ask God for his forgiveness of our failure. Then before the reception of the Holy Communion, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We come to mass with an awareness of our sin and when we return to our everyday life, with our awareness of the presence of the kind, merciful and forgiving God.
A prayer for a merciful and forgiving heart:
Oh Lord Jesus!, You are God of mercy and forgiveness.
We give you thank for coming to teach us
a lesson of forgiveness and mercy.
Forgive me for the times
I have harbored resentment and hatred.
Give me a generous heart so that I may forgive others’ faults
that my faults may be forgiven. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong
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