Sunday, Feb. 20, is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle I).
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Today’s readings not only remind us that we are made in the image and likeness of God: They remind us what the image of God is in the first place.
It’s easy to get the wrong idea about God. We often project on him an image that we learned not from him, but from our own insecurities. We know he doesn’t like sin; we know we are sinners — and so we live in fear. We can think that he is ready to smite us.
This comes from our rebellion. We rejected God and became enslaved to sin. That’s why, in baptism, we have to make three promises to reject Satan, his pomps and works. We are leaving his family and joining God’s. The Old and New Testaments are the story of God’s efforts to teach us that he is love, not anger, as Satan told us, and how we are to love in our new family.
God does this in today’s first reading by speaking directly to Moses:
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”
God succinctly describes what he has done. He has had to “reprove” us. His people were unruly. He had to tame and train them. This involved punishment. But he took no malicious joy in it. We should do the same.
At the end of the first reading, God sums up what it means to be in the image of God: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We should love our neighbors as ourselves. How do we love ourselves? We should recognize the need to discipline ourselves, to give ourselves good things in moderation. We know that loving ourselves doesn’t involve allowing our appetites to get the better of us. We know that to love ourselves we have to watch what we eat, how much we drink and how we spend our time. It’s about how we bear witness to Christ in our actions and relationships.
This is how we are to love others: Love them like God loves us.
Today’s readings present several statements of what God is like — and, therefore, what we should be like.
In the Psalm response, we hear: “The Lord is kind and merciful.” So should we be. We hear in the second reading that we should “not boast in human beings.” God doesn’t. Neither should we. Instead, we should boast in God.
Specifically, this means that we shouldn’t try to be “wise in this age,” says the second reading. We shouldn’t try to conform to society’s standards. We should conform to God’s — even if people in our day find this foolish — because we are part of his family now.
Last comes the Gospel, with its explanation of how to live in the image of God.
God makes “the sun rise on the good and the bad, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust.” We also should take this attitude toward others: not discriminating between them — and not holding back what we give.
Then God gives a new commandment. Says Jesus:
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies.”
It’s a difficult commandment. But it is really just an extension of the love we are learning: a love in God’s image.
In God, all is love. Punishment comes from love, and his mercy is greater than his anger. Ultimately, to be in God’s image, to be in our new family, it means offering no concession to hatred. It means being as open to our enemies as God was to us when we were far from him.
Is it difficult? Yes. But it is what we were made for.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.