Friday, March 10, 2017

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

“Moses“ by Carlo Dolci, 1640-45
Commentary on Dt 26:16-19
This reading from Deuteronomy is the final agreement in Moses’ Covenant.  In it the Israelites are told by Moses that for their part they must always follow God’s commandments and statutes.  For his part, the Lord has made them his special possession, favored above the other nations he has made.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
R. (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Commentary on Ps 119:1-2, 4-5,7-8
Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem.  Each of the eight verses of the first strophe begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph). Each verse of the second strophe begins with the second letter (beth), and so on for all 22 letters of the alphabet. The entire work is in praise of the Law, and the joys to be found in keeping it. It is not "legalism" but a love and desire for the word of God in Israel's Law, which is the expression of the Lord's revelation of himself and his will for man. In these opening verses, the psalmist establishes that a desire to keep the law is a prerequisite to offering sincere praise.
Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
Commentary on Mt 5:43-48
This passage is the second of six examples in St. Matthew’s Gospel of conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. The Lord extends the understanding of Mosaic Law. He first quotes Leviticus 19:18. Jesus tells the disciples once more that their behavior must be reflected in how they treat others and must go beyond what was customarily understood. He tells his friends directly to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (not curse them as was customary, also echoed in Romans 12:17-21). This exhortation differentiates Christians, who love even their enemies based upon  requirements of their faith.
Jesus continues to reinterpret Mosaic Law.  Here, he goes after the closed community.  He tells the disciples, consistent with the instruction to “turn the other cheek,” to love not just those who love us but those who are our enemies as well.
He goes on to contrast the response expected from his disciples to the response customarily given (e.g. loving those who love you, greeting only one’s friends), asking: “Do not the pagans do the same?” The passage concludes with “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He points out that to do less than that is human nature, but our calling is to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. Only in St. Matthew’s Gospel is the word “perfect” used. In St. Luke’s Gospel the word is “merciful”.
CCC:  Mt 5:43-44 1933, 2844; Mt 5:44-45 2303, 2608; Mt 5:44 1825, 1968, 2262; Mt 5:45 2828; Mt 5:46-47 2054; Mt 5:47 1693; Mt 5:48 443, 1693, 1968,2013, 2842
Sometimes when we are in discussions with friends or family who see the faith as “non-inclusive” we may hear retorts like: “The best Christian that has ever been was Gandhi;” or some other epithet intended to challenge the notion that belief in the supremacy of Christ is key to our salvation.  People taking this approach have missed something very important that St. Matthew’s Gospel makes clear in the passage we are given today.
There is a difference between being a good and moral person and being a good Christian.  To use an analogy, it is like saying: “I have a rowboat in a pond and am therefore a sailor. This makes me just like the maritime seamen who take huge ships on the seas of the world.”  Some of the ingredients are the same, both have boats (although the scale is drastically different), and both are in a body of water; however the size and hazards are tremendously different. 
The principal differences between the good and moral person and the good Christian are, first, what they believe about God, and second, how they are motivated and what they expect from their lives.  We draw this distinction here because many of our brothers and sisters who claim to be Christian are in fact good moral people who have not taken a leap of faith. 
As the Gospel tells us, the Christian follows God in loving all his creation, that which is pleasing to the eye, to touch, to smell and to taste and that which is not pleasing. All of the physical reality we perceive is created by him and is therefore to be respected by us.  That includes our fellow travelers, whether they love us or not.  All were created by God, all are loved by God, and as God’s only Son shows us time and again, all are loved equally.
The distinguishing element here is that the good and moral person may love and respect creation too, but does so only so far as it is seen to be in that person’s best interests or the best interests of society in general.  Here’s an example.  There is an organization called PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  While it is certainly a Christian ideal to treat animals humanely, certain radical members of this group have gone so far as to kill people whom they thought were treating animals inhumanely.  Their reverence for the life of animals actually exceeded their reverence for human life.
This is just one example of how morality may be misconstrued as being analogous to Christianity.  The Christian is driven by love, and that is the underlying difference.  We are asked to love God first (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and then love others (all others, not just those who love us).  To do less would be a betrayal of Christ, who showed us what Christian love means.

[1] The picture is “Moses“ by Carlo Dolci, 1640-45
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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