Homily for Feb. 20, Sunday of the VII Week in Ordinary Time, year A Click the “play” button above to listen, or click here to download the MP3 audio file.
“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When we first hear these words of Our Lord, those of us who are perfectionists might be tempted to rejoice. We might see it as a justification for us wanting to have all our clothes folded exactly the same way and the same size, or for carefully folding our used plastic grocery bags and saving them for future use, or for sorting the silverware according to both size and pattern. However, Jesus is not talking about perfectionism, but perfection, and there’s a big difference.
Perfectionism is a strong concern for having all the external details of something just right, and it is mostly concerned with the way things are done. That can be a good or a bad thing; if it is our sole concern, we can end up like the Pharisees, paying attention to the smallest details of the law while having our hearts far from God. The kind of perfection that Jesus is talking about is less about the way things are done and more about what we do.
In the Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which we heard in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus continues to teach us that our road to holiness lies in imitating the virtues of our Heavenly Father. For example, Jesus cites the text of today’s reading about loving our neighbor, and takes it to another level. Just as God is benevolent and generous to all people, we too are to called to forgive others, to give more than we are obliged to according to merely human justice, to renounce revenge, and even to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]”.
This is not at all easy. When people really hurt us, or – sometimes worse – hurt people we love, the pain and resentment can run deep. Sometimes, family quarrels are the worst, precisely because any betrayal of trust violates the natural bonds of love and loyalty that should join family members together. No one has greater power to cause us pain than someone who knows us intimately and whom we have deeply loved – and those wounds can be the hardest to heal. And yet, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and seek their good.
This can be easier if we remember two things. First of all, as the psalm says, God is more than willing to forgive us all our sins and does not treat us as our sins deserve. On the contrary, God became man and died for us to save us from our due punishment. The least we can do is forgive others in turn. And this brings us to the second reality that can help us treat even our enemies with forgiveness and love: every human being is called to Baptism, and in that sacrament we become temples of the Holy Spirit. When we set out to harm our neighbor with our words or deeds, it is an offense against God Himself.
As with any other Christian act or attitude, living Christian love and forgiveness requires God’s help. Praying for those whom we need to forgive can make a huge difference in obtaining conversion of heart for everybody involved. May God continue to transform us so that we may always do what is pleasing to Him, motivated by love, and become each day more perfect, like the Heavenly Father is perfect.