February 23, 2014 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
“All belong to you, and you to Christ.” (1 Cor 3:23) With those words St. Paul emphasizes our relationship to Christ in today’s second reading. The readings for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time not only reinforce what our relationship to God should be, but also what our relationships to one another should be.
“Love your neighbor” is repeated in both the first reading from Leviticus and the Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus is quoted more than once as stating this is one of the two most important commandments, the other being “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) That is about as definitive as it can get. The Lord leaves nothing to doubt and nothing to debate. Thus, our readings again complement one another to help us reach the proper understanding.
The Book of Leviticus falls in the middle of what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are the five books which make up the Pentateuch. Leviticus was in the middle for a reason. Attributed to Moses, it lays out the rituals which the Jewish people were to follow to properly live out and practice their faith. Two key notions expanded in Leviticus are holiness and sacrifice. The first is the challenge each of us faces in being called to holiness, and the second is a forerunner and reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus Christ would make for us.
St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians includes the reminder, as indicated in the introduction of this reflection, that we are one with God in many ways. In stewardship we know that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. Paul assures us that we, our very bodies, are temples of God’s goodness. That notion certainly reinforces the admonition “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we truly view our very selves as being one with God, and if we love God, then we must also love ourselves. St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like them to be toward you if you were in your neighbor’s place. That is the touchstone of true reason.” Stewardship is an extension of that love.
Recall that the Gospel reading from Matthew is still part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There are so many precious lessons for us in that entire discourse that sometimes we need to concentrate on it one piece at a time. Today’s Gospel is particularly important, although not lengthy. The Lord’s advice that we should not only “love your neighbor” but also “love your enemy” as well is sometimes complicated for us to grasp. We need to understand that the word “neighbor” at that time meant to the listener “those who live near you and share your religion.” Jesus, by including your “enemy,” was pointing out that His call to “Love your neighbor” was more than that. It included everyone who was near you, wherever you might be.
It is not always easy to “love your neighbor,” let alone your enemy. However, that is exactly what is expected of us as good stewards. Stewardship is knowing that God loves us, that we are to love God in return, and that our directive as disciples of Christ is to love all as Jesus did. We faithfully are to strive to love our neighbor in ways that demonstrate that love and that reflect the love of Jesus Christ.