' Scripture Notebook Michael Barnes S.J.
Seventh Sunday of the Year
Leviticus 19.1-2. 17-18: Not many people read the book of Leviticus; it is not designed for relaxation, nor is it at all easy to wade through what seems like a disordered collection of highly unlikely legal infringements. But today's reading. punctuated by the decisive pronouncement. "I am the Lord*. and ending with the most celebrated of all quotations from the Old Testament, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself' deserves special attention.
A collection of disparate material it is; the book was cornposed from ancient traditions during the period of Exile, in the sixth century. It originated in priestly circles and was partly intended as a manual to help the priests in carrying out the complex ritual of sacrifice and cult.
But the purpose of the book is not just to preserve the past. Law is presented as part of the history and heritage of the People — the source of that perfect communion which was established on Sinai when the all-holy God chose to reveal himself to Israel.
Holiness is today's theme. By their recurrent sins the People had broken the communion with God and been punished with Exile. Nevertheless God remains, faithful and holy and unchanging — "I am the Lord". By keeping to the Law the People not only experience a new sense of forgiveness, through the sacrifice which expiates sin, but also learn a new way for the future, through the guidance of the cede of holiness.
The Law, for all its tedium and repetition, is simple and positive: God is all-holy. What he is in himself he commands us to be too.
I Corinthians 3.16-23: The idea that the community of believers is God's temple and that the Holy Spirit dwells within us occurs several times in the New Testament. Paul, deeply critical of the way the Corinthians have allowed party interests to split the Church, points out that God's Temple has been defiled The sin of disunity is itself a sacrilege "for God's Temple is holy and that Temple you are." Paul then takes up an earlier theme, just to reinforce his point: "If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age. let him become a fool that he may become wise". The Corinthians have made the mistake of boasting about the men they profess to follow — Cephas, Apollos, even Paul himself. But all they do is to impoverish themselves by limiting the richness or the Gospel which is much greater than anything any merely human preacher can say.
The Christian should never underestimate the gift he or she has received. "All things are yours," says Paul — because we are united with Christ who is the Lord of all. The wise man in the world's eyes is the one who knows all; but for Paul the only true wisdom is found through Christ who is all in all.
Matthew 5.3848: In the middle of today's Gospel reading Jesus picks up the teaching of Leviticus: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy'," Those last few words are not in the original; nor are they to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Probably they refer to unwritten but acknowledged practice in the post-exilic period when the Jews were understandably conscious of the need to preserve their own identity in the midst of a sometimes hostile Gentile environment.
But for Jesus such a narrow interpretation of the Law is not sufficient. By neighbour he does not mean fellow-Jews but all people. Gentiles and sinners. Why? Because God, the allloving and forgiving, loves all men and women, not just a few. His is the example which the disciples are called to imitate. "You, therefore, must be perfect. as your heavenly Father is perfect."
By perfection Jesus does not mean sinlessness, a sort of moral purity, but holiness — the sign, as we saw in the first reading, of God's presence and the gift imparted to all those who, like the disciples, respond to the invitation of Christ.
Of course, those who try to live the life of God's Kingdom here and now remain human and therefore morally imperfect. But that is not the point. As the Father "makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. and sends rain on the just and on the unjust", so the disciples must learn a universal love which is the sign of real holiness — for it is something which no purely human power can achieve. Only God can make us holy and therefore perfect