Living as Jesus has called us
Father Dan Juelfs
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2023
Be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect.
It sounds a bit impossible. It sounds a bit beyond anything that we’re going to be able to do. And it would be if we took that line totally out of context, without any sense of everything else that Christ has told us. Everything else that we know that God has done over the centuries, over the millennia. It would be impossible to try it on our own. That it simply couldn’t be done.
We need to look at the whole picture. Yes, Jesus is calling us to go beyond the minimum. Calling us to go beyond our comfort zone as it were. And certainly, to go beyond what was the Old Testament standard, an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. A standard that was actually designed to limit the amount of retaliation that someone could take on someone that had harmed them. It was a way of protecting the rights of people, and yes, people would be harmed, and retaliation could happen, but you couldn’t take retaliation out of proportion of what had happened. And that was progress in that sense at that time in history. It gave the people a measurement, it gave the people a sense of what was possible for them.
Jesus is calling us to look beyond that kind of a standard. He’s calling us to look at ourselves as being created in God’s image and to see ourselves as Saint Paul reminded us in our second reading today, that we are the temples of God. The spirit of God dwells in us. That’s who we are, and Paul reminds us that’s how we are called to act too. To recognize that reality that God dwells always in us. Jesus calls us not to forget that. Not to let ourselves get caught up in what’s going on and forget who we really are and put it in the context of what God has done.
Yes, Jesus is calling his followers to a whole new standard and two-thousand years later, we’re still working on trying to understand it or trying to let ourselves accomplish that. But we strive to believe that yes, it’s possible. This is what God wants of us. This is what God says we’re capable of. It’s easier for us to notice our faults and our failings than it is to notice the strengths that God shares with us. And that doesn’t back Jesus off in terms of continually challenging us.
Certainly we talk about it as Jesus taking a new commandment, as it were, going beyond the Old Testament eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, but it wasn’t really all that new. The very first reading we heard Moses, telling his people the same thing – to love their neighbor as themselves. To see the call that God had given them to again act as God’s people. Act as the people that God has chosen, brought out of slavery, all that history. And for the people then to remember that this is who they are. Striving to bring people to believe that these are the gifts that God has shared, and this is what I am capable of even at times we don’t always recognize it or don’t always think about it.
Yes, living as Jesus has called us to is a challenge, but the answer is to allow ourselves to be guided and helped by God not to try and do it simply by ourselves. To truly be a temple of the Holy Spirit. To truly be an image of God and then to accept that that’s who we really are and to act like that. From the very beginning, the story of creation, Adam and Eve, mankind has wanted to do it ourselves. Not always listen to what God has called us to. Not always recognize the reality of the limitations that we have even though we are created in God’s image.
God has never given up on us. He continues to offer his grace. He continues to offer his direction for us whether we’re faithful or not. That doesn’t change. God has also continued to challenge us as we hear in the Gospel, “to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Do we let that happen in our lives? Do we allow ourselves to believe that and act that way? Not completely. At least most of us don’t. We always struggle but we always have the opportunity to keep working on it. We always have the opportunity to allow God to continue to work with us.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. A time that we set aside to look at our lives and see what needs to be changed. See the areas that we recognize or need that kind of work, need that kind of attention, and prepare ourselves to celebrate an event in which God has shown us that ultimate love. Sending his son, allowing his son to offer his life for us. Sharing his life with us in the Eucharist. All of those events that surround the Easter celebration.
That yes, we struggle. We struggle to believe, to understand that yes, we are capable. Not on our own, but because God has made us that way. Because God has continued to show us his strength. This is the time of Lent, the time to open ourselves and let God give us his life that we truly can be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.