Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Every now and then someone will say something or I will read something and I will think, “Now that will preach.”  That was exactly my thought when I read today’s scripture passages - that will preach.  Probably has something to do with divine inspiration - on the part of the biblical writers, not me!  Let’s see what they have to say.

Our first reading starts with God telling Moses, Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:  Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”  Since Moses is God’s law giver this is not a suggestion or recommendation.  This is a command, an orderBe holy - that is the whole essence of the spiritual life.  The dictionary defines holy as, “one perfect in goodness and righteousness, divine.”  God wants us to be divine.  We are meant to have divine life in us and that divine life makes us holy.  What does that holiness look like?  God continues, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.  Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There it is, holiness, being like God, is a matter of love.  But look at who we are to love, our neighbor.  For any Israelite they knew exactly who was their neighbor - their fellow Israelites.  Not the Romans, not the gentiles.  Israelites, the people that were just like them.  They narrowed down this commandment to selective love

If that sounds familiar it is because that is exactly where our nation, probably our world, is today.  We love those that love us, love the ones that are just like us, think the same way we do, vote the same way we do.  Everyone else is an outsider.  It is “us” and “them” and we do not like “them.”  There is not a day that goes by that we do not see that in the newspapers and the news.  Our nation is so divided and seems to be spending most of its time telling “them” that not only do they not love them, they hate “them.”

What does Jesus, the new Moses, the new lawgiver say on the Mount?  He takes that selective love of the Torah and opens it up, broadens it to become universal love.  “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  Christ has just given us the acid test of a Christian - can we, do we, love our enemies?  God’s love, the love we are asked to imitate, is totally self-giving.  It is a love that only focuses on the “other,” always wants the best for the “other.”

That is hard. Listen to what Jesus says, For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  There it is.  Most of us, at our best, love those who love us back.  But if that is all we do, Jesus says what is the big deal, do not the pagans, the non-believers, do the same?  Rather, our job is to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.  To be holy, to be set apart.  To be devoted radically to love.  We are challenged to move away from selective love to universal love.  Take it a step at a time, start with those  that you just don’t get along with and next time you see them, smile.  At the grocery store let the person with only 2 or 3 items move in front of you in the checkout line.  And pray, pray that God will change our hearts, set us free to love those who are different and heal our nation of hatred and division.