Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Year A: (19 Feb 2017)
Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; I Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
It happens that this particular Sunday coincides with the main part of the diocesan “Alive in Faith” programme within our parish. By the end of this month, we aim to pledge a total of £25,000 to be donated to the diocesan priests’ training fund over the next five years, and the figures show that last week we were already 38 percent of the way towards attaining that target.
Today’s Gospel concludes the first section of Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount with the Christian Counsel of Perfection:
- ‘Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’.
The parallel passage in St Luke’s Gospel has other words in place of ‘perfection’:
- ‘Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate;
- Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
- Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned;
- Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
- Give, and there will be gifts for you.
- A full measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing, will be poured into your lap, because the standard you use will be the standard used for you’.
The parallel between St Matthew and St Luke, at the conclusion of an initial section of Our Lord’s preaching, allows us to focus upon a wide range of Christian qualities highlighted by St Luke –
-in light of that ultimate quality of Christian perfection held out to us by Jesus Himself, according to St Matthew.
Jesus represents the highest standard of perfection for us, not in a merely abstract sense but in all the personal qualities that he embodies. The qualities for living and the qualities of ultimate life that he conveys through the words of his teaching and through his manner of living, dying and rising again.
Compassion, mercy, generosity with forgiveness: these are means towards the end of Christian perfection, that perfect end of our lives, represented to its fullest and unique extent in the life of Jesus Himself.
Today’s Gospel reading emphasises our capacity to aspire towards what Jesus thus shows us in his life and in his teaching:
- ‘Love your enemies’;
- ‘Turn the other cheek’.
These words convey the inestimable value of what Jesus actually comes to show us: it is absolutely impossible for us to attain to perfection on our own! We need to demonstrate our good will and invite others to recognise our vulnerabilities in charity, our potential in love, before our truest goals in life can begin to be recognised or achieved.
- ‘If a man would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well’.
This is another of Our Lord’s ‘over the top’ remarks!
It assumes ownership of articles of clothing (a basic wardrobe, at least) beneath the tunic and the cloak – a generous giver will have resources of his own. In principle, an authentic Christian will not allow himself to be entirely bereft of bare necessities. We need to be realistic in our giving – give what we can afford, no more, no less.
- ‘If anyone orders you to go a mile, go two miles with him’.
The emphasis is upon fellowship in activity. Our highest standards in life are going to be meaningless unless they can be fully tested as:
- part of a shared endeavour,
- recognisable as a worthy challenge,
- deserving a wholehearted response,
- capable of inspiring others.
If we are able to walk and have strength in our legs, a mere mile will be insufficient to take us on the best journey towards our own true goal!
Christian commentators on St Matthew’s gospel are unanimous in affirming our need to work together in accord with Our Lord’s Counsel of Perfection: it can never be a solo enterprise.
This is why, in working towards the goals set within the current “Alive in Faith” programme, we need to support one another as we contribute towards the future of our parish within the diocese of East Anglia.
Contributions can take the form of prayers and other kinds of moral support and of course financial donations in accordance with our resources. Some of you have already returned pledge forms for the programme of giving planned for the coming five years. This is acknowledged with much gratitude.
When St Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth, with the ministry of Jesus in living memory, he reminded them:
- ‘..You are God’s temple and the Spirit of God is living among you’.
He was addressing baptised Christians – not unlike ourselves – endowed with the distinctive gifts that characterise our Christian identity.
As Jesus said to his future Apostles (Mt 10:8):
- ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ .
Let’s keep these words alive in our hearts as we make our own response to the “Alive in Faith” appeal