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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 19 February 2023
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ><}}}*> Matthew 5:38-48
Photo by author, Baras, Rizal, 2021.

Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount this Sunday, reminding his listeners that include us today that more is expected of us as his disciples in putting into practice the Commandments of God. Last Sunday he brought us into the heart of the commandments which is love; today, he gives us the concrete demands of this love like offering no resistance to one who is evil, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us (Mt.5:39, 44).

For us to have a fuller grasp and appreciation of these two very difficult teachings by Jesus, it is best to see them in the context of holiness which is not being sinless but being filled with God, being like God himself. See how the opening line of today’s first reading and the last line of the gospel express very similar commandments:

The Lord God said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Leviticus 19:1-2

In the gospel, Jesus concluded his teachings with these words of admonition:

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:48

Photo by author, Mt. Sinai, Egypt, 2019.

Alot often, people are allergic in hearing the word “holiness”. Many think holiness is something not for them, something exclusively for us priests and religious, and worst, that it is just a thing of the past that no longer exists! Vatican II clarified that the universal call to holiness falls on everyone. We are all called to be holy by God and holiness is actually close to us as a reality and experience because God is closest with us!

Imagine God the all-powerful, all-encompassing who is beyond our comprehension yet telling us to be like him? Is it not so beautiful and amazing that this God we find so far from us, so different from us, is the one who made the moves to be close to us by living with us and among us in Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel or God-is-with-us? He later sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost so that he may be most closest to us as our breath, dwelling in us, making us his very temple as St. Paul explained in the second reading today.

The whole Bible shows us this nearness of God with us. He is a personal God, Someone who relates with us, directing the world and history not from afar but by getting involved in them himself, even with our very lives! It is in this aspect that Jesus is now asking us to show concretely the demands of discipleship by being holy. It is a very difficult task we cannot do on our own but through the grace of God. And here lies the great wonder – we the sinful ones becoming the image of God’s holiness when we learn to let go of retaliation or revenge and vengeance, when we love and pray for those who persecute us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well… You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44

Photo by author, 13 February 2023.

See how our gospel this final Sunday so apt as we begin our Lenten journey this Ash Wednesday.

In giving us these concrete demands of love, Jesus is inviting us to “detox” ourselves of the many toxins in our souls that prevent us from being holy, from being the presence of God in this world. Everyday we find on Facebook many posts about toxic people, of how to detect them and the need to avoid them, even cut ties with them. Problem is, everybody is suspecting everyone as a toxic person with nobody ever admitting he/she is a toxic one needing detoxification.

Jesus is reminding us this Sunday to check on the many toxins of hatred and violence, resentment and bitterness that poison us as a person that also poison our many relationships. Last week, he asked us to look into our hearts, today we move into our souls. What fills us as a person, as a disciple of Jesus? The spirit of the world or the Spirit of God?

When Jesus asked us “to offer no resistance to one who is evil” by foregoing retaliation or even revenge and vengeance, he is not asking us to behave with naivete or yield to injustice and violence. To offer our other cheek when slapped on the right, to give our cloak not just tunic, to walk for two miles instead of just one mile, and never to turn our back on those who borrow is actually to be peace-maker like Jesus in his beatitudes.

Jesus is not asking us to be passive to evil doers but is in fact telling us to show them the wrongness, the evil of what they are doing. To continue to be good to those who do evil means to actively teach them of what is proper, what is right. It is not weakness but actually a sign of inner strength, courage, and security like Jesus before the Sanhedrin on Holy Thursday night and his enemies while on the Cross on Good Friday. Retaliation makes us no different from evil men and even further escalates the troubles instead of solving them. World history and daily news prove to us daily the foolishness of men and wisdom of God in Jesus Christ’s path of non-violence. A long time ago I have read an article about the never-ending clashes in Israel where a father told a reporter that war does not solve anything but only makes people bury more of their children and parents.

Very true. And yes, it is easier said than done but we have great men like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who have showed us that the path of non-violence preached by Christ is always the best way to end war and killings. The Rev. King Jr. used to say that love is more powerful than guns and bullets. We have shown that in EDSA 1986 and we have seen it at the fall of Berlin Wall as well as in the triumph of democracy in South Africa.

This Sunday, let us flush out those toxins of festering anger within us, of the desire to get even with those who have hurt us. However, let it also be clear that Jesus is not asking us to have warm feelings of affection towards people who do us evil. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, the context of the word “to love” here means to “wish their well-being” which is a unilateral, unconditional desire for the deepest well-being of another person.

Again, Jesus is not asking us to be in love with people who do evil especially against us; he is not even asking us to have warm feelings for someone doing us serious harm and injuries. That would be ridiculous and insane. All Jesus wants us to do is to strongly show them how wrong they are in what they are doing. In a sense, by our strong actions of non-violence, of still wishing their well-being, we are actually teaching them hard lessons of truth and justice, and of holiness itself. We do not have to be friends with terrorists or kidnap men and murderers but we have to sincerely wish their well-being that they may finally stop their evil deeds not only for their own good but for everyone. In fact, all the more we should pray for their conversion, that they may stop from hating and hurting others and begin to learn to love and care for others. English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson said it so well, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

Photo by Mr. Gelo Nicolas Carpio, 2020.

These past weeks we have seen since his sermon on the mount how Jesus has consistently taught us to go beyond the letters of the law, to go against the ways of the world, and to imitate his way of love and mercy, service and kindness that spring from the goodness of his heart. Through his words and actions, Jesus had taught us very concretely the fulfillment of the Law in love.

On our own we cannot achieve it but only through the grace of God. It is a process that requires constant detoxification of our selves, of our sins and other negativities inside us that prevent us from being holy like God. And likewise, we must keep watch on ourselves too that Christ’s call is never meant for us to outdo each other in doing what is good, what is right. One major toxins we need to flush from ourselves is the spirit of competition, of outdoing others in holiness and goodness. What must animate us always is to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect – not being better than anybody else that often leads to our vicious circles of hatred and violence. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead as you prepare for the holy season of Lent.

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