Saint Paul in our second reading today uses a wonderful image to show us that God is building us up into a worthy dwelling place for him to live in us. But he says that we are not being formed into any old home for God,…… “We are invited to become not just an occasional holiday shack for God, but a permanent home and, (even more so…), a “Temple” for God to live in. And the Greek word for “temple” used here implies not just the facade of the Temple of Jerusalem, but the inner sanctuary – the “Holy of Holies” (where only one priest could enter at a time. Apparently the priest on duty had a rope tied around them so if they fainted or died while in this inner sanctuary they could be hauled out by the rope without anyone else entering!)
So, each of us is invited to become, body, soul and mind, an extremely holy place for God to dwell.
What renovations do we need God’s grace to create in us, to make us a worthy place?
A temple is building which is “purpose built”. Every room and every item in that place is there for the purpose of worshiping God (who abides in that temple), and for doing God’s works. …… So, our lives, and everything about us, is similarly put to the use of God; We become willing instruments of God’s Kingdom… We are God’s temple, says Saint Paul, and this is an amazing thought.
This weekend, with the Gospel, there are two words that bear deeper reflection; and need a bit of clarification.
Firstly we are told by Jesus: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” –
This is not an invitation to perfectionism (which is quite a different thing).
In fact, we actually see in Our Lord’s life and ministry, that he was the opposite of a “nit-picking” legalist, who was prickly around other people because they didn’t do everything “just right.” The Greek word “perfect,” here, actually means “Telios” that is (like the word ‘telescope’)/ an unfolding to achieve its maximum potential/ achieving full capacity/ reaching maturity/ Becoming whole or complete…/ “To be best suited for its purpose”…. (For example.. a ‘tailored suit’ is Telios – that is, it is designed to perfectly fit the wearer’s proportions)
…. So, we are invited to allow God’s Kingdom to fit us like a designer Baptismal garment/.. matching just right !/ …. But, we are the ones who are being shaped to fit God’s ways, and not the opposite… of us trying to cut-down God’s Kingdom to suit our convenience.
The second problematic saying is “love your enemies”…
This is extremely difficult for teaching. “Pray for those who hurt you”……
Firstly the Greek word used here is not like the love of husband and wife. Also, this word is (understandably) nothing like the love that one has for a family member or a close friend…. It is ‘agape” – That is, the different kind of love that wishes well to the other, show basic human respect and indicates an act of reason. It is not so much a love coming from the heart, but (surprisingly in this situation), it is a decision (made by the head and enabled by a conscious, considered resolution),
It is a deliberate choice to show respect/ kindness, restraint, and regard to all people, irrespective of their actions, and irrespective of our feelings towards them.
For doing this is mirroring how God treats us all.
This does NOT mean that we become doormats or punching bags! That would be unjust and unacceptable. And in any case, Jesus is giving this teaching to disciples, most of whom would have been quite capable of knocking the head off someone who slapped them even once! Christ’s new followers would have needed to use their willpower not to strike back! Christ is teaching us that, abiding in God’s love, we don’t have to lower our response or attitude, to that of those who seek to harm us. We do not need to return evil for evil – which would simply continue the vicious cycle of violence and hate.
This is asking us something that does not come naturally. The bonds of natural affection and friendship are in some ways easier, but this is about the call of God’s love – not the limits of the “bare minimum” God might expect.
To the demands of the law, there are always limitations and exceptions …./ But to the claims of love, there are no limits or exceptions/ And such a concept as “limits” makes no sense, to one who loves.
“A basic mistake in earthly wisdom is to think of life in terms of the law, instead of love. If we love a person deeply, passionately, humbly and selflessly, we will be quite sure that (in a poetic sense) if we were to give that person all we possessed, we will still be in default; That if we gave that person the sun, the moon and the stars, we will still be in debt, (a willing debt of love.) / ‘One who is in love is always in debt’ Again, here I think of parents… They love their children unconditionally… They give because they love… If they were doing it for reward or expecting the balance sheet one day to be truly “evened up”…., they will most certainly be waiting a long time !…… but that is not how a loving parent acts… and God does not think that way either…
(Jesus invites us to enter into this mindset deeper and deeper each day).
How much is sufficient? how much is enough? when given to one’s beloved?…..
…. It is a totally different way of seeing the world…”
So, are we ready for this astounding invitation, from today’s Gospel?”A person will be perfect (‘Telios’) …. (or to put it more precisely… “mature and fit for the purpose for which we were created),” when we reflect the image and likeness of God, (for that is what God intended from the beginning of creation).
God’s qualities are a universal benevolence and kindness, unconquerable goodwill,
constant seeking of the highest good of every person.
God is love and shows love (to the saint and to sinner alike).
No matter what people do in response, God seeks nothing but their highest good.
Jesus teaching isn’t just a good advice, it’s a good news. Jesus did it all himself and he opened up this new way of being human so all of us who follow him can discover it. When they mocked him he did not respond. When they challenged him he told them stories to force them to think differently. When they struck him he took the pain and asked a question: why? When they put the heavy cross on him he carried it out of the city to be crucified. When they nailed him to the cross he prayed for them.
The Sermon on the Mountain isn’t ‘just about us. If it were we may only admire it as a fine bit of idealism, but then we would return to our normal lives. The Sermon on the Mount is about Jesus himself this is a blueprint for his life. He asks nothing of his followers he hasn’t faced himself and within his own life.
If this is the way to show what God is alike and this is the pattern Jesus follow himself exactly, the evangelist Matthew is inviting us to draw conclusion: that in Jesus we see the Emmanuel, the God with us. The Sermon on the Mount is not just about how to behave it is about discovering a living God in the loving and dying Jesus and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world we live in.
Let us pray today that we may find ways to live this new creative, healing and restorative justice Jesus is proposing to us, to be more generous, more kind, more Christ like, more God like. Let us never allow ourselves to anger and revenge. Let us remember the words we pray in Our Father: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.