Sunday Sermon for February 23, 2020, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

In the first reading today, God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that they were to be holy because the Lord God is holy.  This makes sense on several levels.  First, we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we will find fulfillment by becoming more like God in Whose image we are created.  Second, the people of Israel were the Chosen People of God.  They had entered into covenants with Him, so they were to be more like Him than any other people.

St. Paul, who was educated by one of the greatest Jewish Rabbis, Rabbi Gamaliel, certainly knew the Scriptures and the commands of God.  However, when another Rabbi, Jesus, brought the love and worship of God to a new and deeper level, St. Paul gave Jesus’s followers an even greater reason to be holy: they are the Temple of the Lord and the Spirit of God dwells in them.  As St. Paul states: “…the Temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus’s call to holiness reflects the deeper call given to us as members of Christ. Jesus took the Jewish laws and taught their true spiritual meaning.  The Jewish way of life was a holy way, a way revealed by God Himself.  However, it was not yet a way of perfection.  Such a holy way was possible only with our Lord.  This is why, at the end of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus does not say we are to be holy as God is holy; rather, we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

We notice not only that Jesus’s call to perfection (in the spiritual sense) is different, but the motivation for that perfection differs from what God said to the Israelites.  The Israelites were to be holy because God is holy; we are to be perfect because our Father is perfect.  Our Father is God, but following the way of our Lord brings us into a new relationship with God.  We are no longer His people; we are His children.

The Jewish people, as we see in the first reading, are called to love their neighbor as themselves.  We too, are called to love, but that love is first and foremost a response to God’s love God for us.  Flowing from God’s love for us, our love for God needs to express a love for every person God loves, even our enemies and persecutors.  Jesus teaches us and shows us how to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors on the Cross – by dying for those who persecuted Him in loving obedience to the Father

Loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors is divine wisdom.  On a natural level, human wisdom thinks this is complete foolishness.  Why would you love someone who hates you?  Why would you love your enemy?   Even if another person thinks you are an enemy, that does not mean you need to think that person is your enemy.  We need to see the image of God in every person and respond to them with love and love them as God loves them.  We may not like the person or consider the person a friend, but we can always love the person.

Remember that to love someone is to will only what is best for the person.  What is best is their conversion, if needed, and their salvation.  On the natural level, what is best is to be treated with dignity and respected as a person.  This does not imply that we agree with the other person or approve of what they do; it simply means that we act as children of God in our relationships with others.

In the eyes of the world, this is foolishness.  This is precisely why St. Paul tells us we need to become fools: so we can conform ourselves to the wisdom of God.  St. Paul also teaches us that Jesus is the Wisdom of God and, as members of Jesus Christ through baptism, we are to be conformed to Him and even transformed into Him. 

Such a transformation requires total detachment from the things and the ways of the world.  It also requires total union with the will of God.  Those without the divine Wisdom understand neither Jesus nor His Cross.  The more we are conformed to our Lord through prayer and by sharing in His Passion, the more clearly we will recognize the depth of God’s wisdom in sending His Son for our salvation and the wisdom of our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross.  The Father’s motivation is love; the Son’s motivation is love; our motivation for what we do in Christ is love.  The holiness of God, the perfection of God, the wisdom of God, is love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit