Sunday, March 05, 2017

Inherit the Kingdom

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." Leviticus 19:17-19

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'  Matthew 25:34-36

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen. (From the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis)

The verses quoted above from the first reading in the Book of Leviticus describe different required attitudes and actions that form the basis for one’s relationship with fellow Israelites. A separate passage advises a similar attitude toward aliens:  

When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God. (33-34)

This third book of the Pentateuch is named “Leviticus” because a good part of this book deals with concerns of the priests, who are of the tribe of Levi.  The is part mainly treats cultic matters (i.e., sacrifices and offerings, purity and holiness, the priesthood, the operation of the sanctuary, and feast days) but is also interested in various behavioral, ethical, and economic issues.  That is where this section comes in. The instruction at the end of verse 18 is viewed by both Jews and Christians as one of the central tenets governing our relationships with each other. It also appears in all the Synoptic Gospels as well as in Paul’s letters to the people of Rome and Galatia. 

Jesus takes this law one giant step further.  He not only demands love of neighbor and stranger.  Jesus requires us to love our enemies as well as the neighbors and strangers.

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. Matthew 5:44-45

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

The Book of Proverbs similarly commands how the Christian should form an attitude toward one’s enemies – it goes further and requires us to be infused with compassion. “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat, if thirsty, give something to drink; For live coals you will heap on their heads, and the LORD will vindicate you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)

The Just War Theory, the Geneva Convention, and other statements which require humanity and humanness and moderation are rampant in both religious and secular codes of conduct.  This boils down to a Biblical code which requires that human beings not take it upon themselves to exact vengeance, only to mete our justice.  We must always consider an enemy’s vulnerability in time of need, and not make such a time become an occasion for revenge. Restraint and justice and prudence allow God’s justice to take its own course.  St. Paul quotes what was a Greek version in Romans 12:20: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

Ultimate judgment will be based upon how our corporal and spiritual acts of mercy are carried out for the least powerful, least influential people in our world.

Growing up, once we had “made” our First Communion with Jesus, a common refrain when going to Mass with my family or friends was, “Are you receiving?”  Implied in the question was how the interrogator was probing to see if we had gone to Confession and if our conscience was clear. 

Imagine the question in heaven when the tables are turned.  St. Peter, seeing us among a group of newcomers at the “pearly gates,” turns to Jesus and asks, “Are you receiving?”  Implied in the question is whether we and our fellow travelers have fulfilled our Matthew 25 responsibility to live out the Nazareth Manifesto.  If we have, Jesus would certainly be receiving them us and holding up his part of the covenant.  If not, we will find the door locked to our knocking.

We receive Jesus when we receive the least. We receive Jesus when we serve the least. After all, “Are you receiving” ultimately means just the opposite: “Are you giving?”

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