Today’s readings explain why Christians are expected to be holy and how we are meant to become holy people. The first and second readings give us reasons why we should be holy, and the Gospel describes four methods of becoming holy people prescribed for us by Jesus. The first reading, teaches us that we should be holy because it is the command given to us by God through Moses: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” It also shows us the way to share in God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the second reading, St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies and souls holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. In the Gospel passages taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us four methods of becoming holy as God is holy.
1) The first method is to abstain from all forms of retaliation. Jesus discards even the milder form of retaliation developed by Hammurabi in ancient Babylon and passed on to Israel through Moses. The policy was one of limited, proportional retaliation (Lex Talionis, “tit-for-tat”): “an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” rather than allowing unlimited vengeance. In place of this limited, proportional retaliation, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and no retaliation. For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, even though graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength, discipline of character, and strengthening by God’s grace.
2) The second method is to take the offense gracefully and love the offender. Jesus illustrates this in three images: “turning the other cheek, freely giving the tunic and adding the cloak to it and walking the extra mile.” Jesus tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others, offering them loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve this treatment, as God does for us. We are commanded to love our enemies as Jesus loves us, with agápe love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them as he did for us.
3) The third method is by unconditionally and whole-heartedly forgiving the offender without planning revenge in any form. This means not only loving one’s neighbors, but also forgiving those enemies who hurt us and seem willfully to cause us suffering, hardship and unhappiness.
4) The fourth method is sincerely praying for their spiritual and physical welfare and for the grace needed for their conversion and renewal of life. Thus, today’s Scripture readings challenge us to become holy as our God is holy by loving, forgiving, and blessing others, even our enemies with graceful and magnanimous love, as our Holy God does.