Sunday, February 19, 2017

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Good or Bad or Neutral?

When we were children most probably we heard our parents and those around us tell us to do good and avoid evil. They told us to tell the truth, to study our lessons in school, to help in the work at home, to behave well in front of visitors and to avoid actions or behaviors which are bad like crying or just pouting. Even today we still hear these exhortations given to our children and grandchildren. These advices are meant to lead the children to live good lives and thus grow up as good family members and good citizens of our country. Some of us still remember that during our elementary grades we had a subject called Good Manners and Right Conduct. This subject was supposed to give an indication of how well we behaved in school and thus to gauge our goodness.

The underlying assumption of these exhortations and advices was that children become what they do. They become good by doing good things. On the other hand they become bad by doing bad things, like disobeying parents or fighting other children. That was the motive behind these advices. We wanted children to be good, so we told them to do good.

In our Gospel reading for this Sunday there is a passage which tells us that this underlying assumption is contrary to the mind of Jesus. We read that he said, “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.”
In this passage we learn that Jesus affirms that there are two kinds of people, bad and good, just and unjust. There are people who are good and there are people who are bad. There are people who are just and there are people who are unjust. Jesus tells us that God causes the sun to shine on both these kinds of people at the same time. He does not discriminate between the good and the bad as to who should receive the sunlight or the rain.

Jesus repeats this idea that there are people who are good and people who are bad in other parts of his teachings. In Luke’s Gospel he says, “A good man produces goodness from the good in his heart; an evil man produces evil out of his store of evil” (7:45). Just before saying this he has an illustration of a tree. “A good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit.” In other words a good tree always produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A tree is known by its fruit. A mango tree produces mango fruit, never a banana fruit. And bananas do not produce mango fruits.

I want us to reflect on this passage of Jesus because the first reading tells us to be holy. It begins “The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” It does not exhort us to perform works of holiness making us holy. Rather it tells us to be holy. It also does not tell us to become holy, but be holy. To become involves a process, a series of procedures. To be involves one act. We become an educated man by going to school or by reading on our own, by observing others and reflecting on our experiences. One becomes a lawyer by going through a law school.

The command of the Lord is to be holy, not to become holy. As soon as we accept this command of God and submit to him we become holy. It is God who makes us holy by our response to his command.

We made this submission when we were baptized. We were made holy by God. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” (1213). We become sons of God, we participate in God’s nature and holiness. We are made holy as God is holy.

Our second reading tells us “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

Again our Catechism declares this happened when we were baptized. It says, “The baptized have become "living stones" to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood." By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1268)

We have been made into a spiritual house, a temple or dwelling place of God, a holy place. We are a holy people, a holy nation.

If we are a holy people then fruits of holiness are going to be produced by us. We cannot produce these unless we are united to the vine which is Jesus. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I am him, will produce abundantly.” (John 15:5)

The proper approach then in leading our children to do good is to inform them of the grace of baptism which they received and to lead them to live in union with Jesus. As they are enlightened about this grace of holiness which was given to them and of their union with Jesus through his Spirit they will grow into temples of God, producing fruits of holiness and goodness in their lives.

May we walk in this direction so that we behave really as children of God and thus we turn the other cheek when someone strikes our right cheek, we hand over our cloak to someone who gets our tunic, we go two miles when we are forced to carry a burden for one mile, we give to those who ask from us something, and we do not turn our back on one who wants to borrow from us. Thus we love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, all of these are true in our lives because we are perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Philosophers have debated for many centuries whether the human being is by nature good or bad. Others have formed the opinion that he is neither good nor bad by nature. He is born neutral. He becomes good or bad as he grows up with the influence of his family and others around him.

Jesus has given us the answer to this question whether human beings are by nature good or bad. He says there are human beings who are good. There are human beings who are bad. Those who are told by his heavenly Father to be holy, as in the first reading, and believe this to be done in their lives are good. They produce good fruit or actions. Those who do not believe are evil. He once called them children of the devil (John 8:44). And the means whereby God makes us holy is baptism.

Let us pray. Let us bow our heads. Lord Jesus, you told us that there are two classes of human beings, good and bad. You have made us good by baptism, by washing away our sins and incorporating us into your self. Help us to produce fruits which show this goodness that comes from you: love of neighbours, love of enemies and of those who persecute us. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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