Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
First Reading: Leviticus 19.1-2. 17 – 18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3. 16 – 23
Gospel: Matthew 5. 38 – 48
“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” says the first reading. Then it adds the principle of
“an eye for an eye” which was not such a totally barbaric practice as it seems at first sight. It was
meant to help the people to exercise some restraint towards their defeated enemies. It became
known as the Law of Retaliation and puts limits on the level of revenge that could be taken for an
injury. Otherwise, unrestrained total war could spread throughout the world. If there are no limits
to revenge, we could see the collapse of civilisation and everybody being killed. There is a
breakdown of cohesion in some parts of our world, with the resulting instability and floods of
Even the earliest Christians could be quarrelsome, some siding with Paul and some with Apollos
and so on. But those tensions, once healed, can sharpen the focus of a community. They led
people back to prayer, to dialogue and a new kind of unity. “As the Lord has forgiven you,” St
Paul says, “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of
Christ rule in your hearts.”
Earlier thinkers before Jesus had stated the principle not to do to others what you would not have
them do to you. That is perhaps the basic law underlying all manners and politeness. But Jesus
puts it more positively. We must actually DO things for others.. There is the story of the man
who appeared at the gate of heaven asking for entry. When St Peter asked him why he should be
let in the man answered: “my hands are clean.” “Yes,” answered Peter, “but they are empty!’ The
Christian ethic is one of active loving.
Mercy is the outstanding gift of God even of the “Old Testament God” whom many imagine as
predominantly harsh and punitive. Our psalm emphasises that God is not a grim judge, seeking
to condemn. Rather, “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” Our
Saving Lord is concerned only to remove our sins and to make us one with him.
In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus asks us to be perfect, just like our Heavenly Father. We rather
feel that it is an impossible thing to do. I always had a strong belief that I could NEVER be
perfect. But as I read through today’s Gospel reading, I realise that it is not an impossibility. It is
a possibility that is in progress.
Let us consider the way that our Lord Jesus takes us towards perfection from today’s readings:
You shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself: Proverbs 13:24 says
‘Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to
discipline them’. We tend to obey Proverb 13:24 more than any other teaching in the Bible. But
we may still be hesitant to point out the mistakes of others. God blessed us with wisdom so that
we may use it for the good of others too. For example, in the Bible, Abraham reproved King
Abimelech after the king’s servants seized one of Abraham’s wells. We see all of God’s holy
children, never missing a chance to reprove others. But we should correct them only privately.
When we reprove others privately in a gently manner also, they may get angry at us and start
shouting ‘Are you good enough to correct me?’ The remedy here is ‘Keep silent, when they
shout’. Then they will shout and keep silent. If we start justifying our position, the message will
be lost. We will end up in unnecessary arguments. So after conveying the information, keep
silent when the other person is bursting out and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to the other person.
We see an instance of this in the “The story of a soul” – Autobiography of Saint Little Thérèse.
When Little Thérèse was in charge of the novices, she found that one of the novices had to be
corrected and so she corrected her. Then the novice got angry that though she was full of best
intentions, Little Thérèse was always saying something wrong about her. Little Thérèse remained
silent and came to her cell. She prayed to the Holy Spirit to help the novice understand. The next
day the novice came to Little Thérèse and said, “I was very angry with you. But then the Lord
gave me the light of what you are saying. Thanks for correcting me”. People may not say
“Thanks” to us, but God will speak to them when they are alone silently. God grants us wisdom,
for the benefit of others.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people: Nowadays,
manipulation is the most prevalent form of vengeance. People are engrossed in a manipulative
mindset. They think they are wise but God calls them fools. Psalm 2 says that people plot in vain,
because God laughs at them. When we are deeply wounded, we may not want our transgressors
to be blessed, we may start gossiping about them or may not give them what is lawfully theirs.
But when we do not do any harm on our part, God will become our vindicator. When we be our
own vindicator, then God will not step up for us. So let us not worry about those who cause harm
to us. God’s vindication will be heavier than our vindication. Let us consider the life of King
David when he was being chased by King Saul. Through no fault of David, Saul tried to kill him.
Saul chased David for years together to kill him. But when David got a chance to kill Saul, even
when his friends asked him to kill him, David did not kill Saul. It was like God testing David by
giving the sleeping Saul into David’s hands. But even then David did not choose to kill Saul. So
God became the vindicator for David. God enthroned David as the King of Israel. David is
looked up to as the greatest king of Israel. Our Lord Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “You have
heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist
an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants
to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” What does our Lord say through these
verses? Our Lord says, “Do not be your own vindicator.”
You shall not hate in your heart any of your kin: Looks like sibling rivalry is higher than any
other rivalry in today’s world. In our grandparents’ time, the majority of siblings used to take
care of each other. There would be family support. But now it is like ‘Peaceful siblings are those
who stay happy with each other miles apart’. The major cause of hate among relatives is
jealousy. Jealousy leads to cold war. Jesus leads to peace. There is no option where we can have
both – we must choose either Jesus or jealousy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you:
We undergo physical pain when we carry hurt in our heart. Unforgiveness burdens those who are
hurt more than those who hurt. Unforgiveness results in bursts of anger, self pity, makes a person
impulsive and compulsive. When we carry this bitterness in our heart, we will try to make the
other person understand how we feel. Bitterness also makes a person feel physically sick. So it is
more damaging to us rather than the person who has hurt us. It is better to forgive and be happy
rather than not forgiving and being sad. Bitterness can never make us better. So it’s better to let
go of the bitterness.
The other part is doing good to others when we are hurting inside. When we are flourishing,
doing good to others will come easily. But our “PASS” mark comes when we do good in pain.
Job was relieved of his terrible agony and raised twice as in his former times only when he
prayed for his ‘so-called-friends’, who actually wounded him. Doing the right thing, when we are
persecuted wrongly proves our integrity.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself: Loving our neighbours includes all the above pointers
and also says we need to be happy for their victory. When we are not able to naturally feel happy
for others’ victory, we should consciously train ourselves to be happy. I have personally come
across people who say “I am happy for you” when they are actually jealous of the person. Can
we give a thought about the shortness of our life – It is only like a breath (Psalm 39:5). In this
quickly passing away life, why can’t we be happy for others’ victory? Being happy in others’
victories is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Let us work hard towards perfection, Jesus will also work with us!!