HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: AN INCLUSIVE CHRISTIANITY THAT DOES NOT EXCLUDE GOD.
BY: Fr. Vincent Onwukwe.
One of the most challenging teachings of Jesus is turning the other cheek to someone who hits us on one cheek. By this teaching, Jesus was speaking metaphorically about the need to avoid retaliation in the face of violence and insults. He gave a practical example in John 18:23 when a policeman struck him. He only asked, “why do you strike me?” without retaliating. Jesus used turning the other cheek as a template to teach us not to retaliate or pay back evil with evil.
Interestingly, Jesus mentioned the right cheek. For one to hit another person on the right cheek, the person must either use their left palm or the back side of his right palm. Using the back side of one’s palm to hit someone had a humiliating implication among the Jews. Therefore, Jesus implies that vengeance is not the correct response in the face of humiliation and violence. In fact, Jesus suffered the greatest of all humiliations by dying a shameful death on the cross (cf. Deut. 21:23; Gal 3:13).
The warning of Jesus that we should avoid retaliation also resonates with the need to practice an inclusive Christianity, interacting with everyone, including those who hate and mistreat us. This point is clearly expressed in the statements, “Be holy for I the Lord am holy” and Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
The adjectives used to capture the idea of being holy in Greek and Hebrew are Hagios and qadosh (qodesh-holiness). These two terms, among other things, denote the idea of being set apart, consecrated, isolated, differentiated etc. Notably, in our understanding of being holy, there are two extremes we should avoid. The first is the attitude of unnecessarily avoiding some persons because we see them as sinners who could contaminate us. This was the attitude of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who said to God in his prayers that he was not like the tax collector. The second extreme attitude is the attitude of doing what every person does, whether right or wrong; that is the attitude of being ashamed of our identity as Christians. Even though we should interact with everyone, it is also necessary to know where to draw the line so that our interaction with people does not prevent us from creating a spiritual space where we encounter Jesus, who always wants to be with us. No matter what we do, we must keep in mind that we are the temple of God (I Cor 3:16) and must not allow our interactions with other people to prevent us from giving God the praise and worship that is due to Him. 1 Pet 2:9 reminds us that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own possession, so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous life. We must therefore be different from those doing the wrong things. Even when everyone is doing the bad thing, being holy or being set apart implies that we refuse to become part of evil.
Another statement that portrays the idea of inclusive Christianity is “Be perfect, therefore, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mtt 5:48). Jesus was not talking about moral perfection. He was rather referring to inclusiveness, being complete. The Greek adjective that has been translated as perfect in English is teleios (The noun form is telos). These Greek terms imply achieving a goal, completing a task, coming to the end of your journey by getting to your destination et cetera. Getting to your destination also includes seeing the person at that destination. The English language has greatly borrowed the word telos. Thus we have words like ‘telephone’, which means speaking to someone at the other end, someone far from the one who is speaking; ‘television’: seeing what is happening far from me, at different destinations; ‘telecommunication’, communicating with those who are not close from us. If we only speak to, see and communicate with those close to us, we shall have a truncated and abridged view and vision of the realities of life. Being perfect or complete as our heavenly Father in this context implies that as our Father in heaven sends rain and sunshine to both the good and the bad, we should also be inclusive in our Christian life, loving and caring for everyone without discrimination. We live in a world with so much hatred and discrimination based on social and economic status, race, and religious affiliation.
An inclusive Christianity reminds us that the Gospel message is not something we keep to ourselves alone. Instead, we must share our Christian life with others who do not believe by boldly living according to our identity as holy people set apart to worship God and share in His kingdom.
May God give us the grace to practice an inclusive Christianity, caring and loving everyone without excluding God. Amen.
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