Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 19, 2017 – Deacon Jim Hackett (LV 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 COR 3:16-23; MT 5:38-4)
Growing up in New Jersey I have been a lifelong NY Yankee fan – and have I some great memories of Yogi Berra – as a player, coach and manager. But as talented as Yogi was …he was perhaps BEST known for his euphemisms – or “YOGI-ISMS!”
You may have heard a few of them: “You can observe a lot… by just watching.”
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
And perhaps – his most FAMOUS one – “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
But MY personal favorite was THIS one: “You’ve got to be very careful if you DON’T know where you’re going – because you might NOT get there.”
Way back in 1865 Lewis Carroll published a novel for children of which most of us are familiar – Alice in Wonderland. In that novel we find Alice one day wandering around in a dream world. She stops and asks the Cheshire cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?”
The cat replies to Alice: “That depends a good deal on where you want to be.”
“Oh”, Alice said. “I don’t much care.”
And with that the cat responds: “Then it doesn’t much matter ….WHICH way you go.”
But Alice persisted: “But … I want to get SOMEWHERE.”
Whereupon the cat – with a wry grin – answered: “Oh …you are SURE to do that!”
WE …can be a LOT like Alice…. saying, “Oh, it doesn’t much matter” to a whole LOT of things. Like it doesn’t much matter which church you go to – or whether you go at ALL for that matter! It doesn’t much matter WHAT you believe – whether you pray – and so forth. And before you know it nothing much matters at all. Eventually, our LIVES don’t matter – and we’ll be just like Alice – drifting aimlessly in our own little wonderland going nowhere!
Goals are important for us to have – otherwise our living is aimless. And aiming at a goal is vitally necessary if we’re going to have any sense at all concerning the path we are taking as we journey through life.
For those snow skiers here – you all KNOW that if you fix your eyes upon the tips of your skis you will certainly fall. Trust me – I KNOW!
But if you look AHEAD – and fix your eyes on a point ahead – a point where you WANT to go – your body will make all of the necessary mid-course corrections – and you’re less likely to fail – and MORE likely to make it to your goal!
In today’s Gospel – Jesus gives us a goal. “…be perfect… JUST as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now SOME might say: “Well, ….what kind of a goal is THAT? Nobody can be equal to God. After all….He’s …well…. GOD! So what’s the point?”
How can WE – mere mortals that we are – with ALL of our faults and failures – be as perfect as …GOD is perfect? We need to – of course – look deeper into the words of Jesus. In the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus in His time – the word “perfect” carries the notion of COMPLETENESS.
So what Jesus is REALLY saying to us is, “Be COMPLETE just as your Heavenly father is complete”. “Love completely, just as God loves completely. Be mature and grown up just as your heavenly Father is fully mature in His love – and fully mature in the way He treats others.”
God – loves us COMPLETELY – without boundaries – without limitations! It’s all a matter us of struggling toward maturity. Oh, you can have sixty candles on your birthday cake but they mean only that you’re growing older – NOT that you’re mature. The number of candles on your birthday cake ONLY count the number of years that have passed since you were born – they don’t necessarily measure completeness – fullness in loving – or fullness of MATURITY… as a human person.
There are ways of measuring growth – the easiest, of course, being size. Parents can certainly attest to the fact that their children need larger clothes … EVERY year as they grow.
Another measurement is in depth of knowledge. We can grow in what we know.
But the GREATEST challenge is to measure the breadth and depth of a person’s love.
When Jesus mentions “an eye for an eye” in our Gospel reading he was referring to an ancient Jewish law – a law of retaliation. It was a law that limited the extent of retribution one could inflict upon another – you TAKE an eye – you LOSE an eye – nothing MORE! It LIMITED the repayment of evil for evil. If NOTHING else, it put limitations on the physical carnage that one could inflict upon another.
However – REVENGE remained as the motive. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” does NOT eliminate vengeful behavior.
Likewise – loving one’s neighbor was a law of somewhat expanded love – although it was still a LIMITED love. AND loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s SELF has been limited – ALL too often – by OUR narrowing of the scope of the word “neighbor”.
Just WHO is my neighbor, we ask?
There’s been so much talk the past few months about building walls and separation! Isn’t the REAL message keep the STRANGERS – the foreigners OUT? And just WHO are the REAL Americans, anyway? Aren’t they the natives who were here before us? – before our OWN ancestors? – before the European foreigners arrived on these shores?
And what about all those Chinese, Irish and Italian workers who built the transcontinental railways that made our country such an economic power in the world – the buildings where people worked – the very churches where people prayed?
And what about the Africans who that were shipped over here as slaves – of NO choosing of their own – to give our economy FREE labor, labor that was used in order to amass vast wealth from their productivity the very sweat and blood of their backs?
No – the law of limited love – the law based on OUR narrowly defined word “neighbor” – is quite adolescent. It is NOT fully mature at all – and it’s certainly NOT what Jesus was talking about.
Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel, “… if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?”
“…being perfect JUST as your heavenly Father is perfect” has to do with UNLIMITED love – UNLIMITED caring FULLY mature and FULLY developed caring and loving in ALL of our relationships with others. It has to do with the perfection that is ONLY found… in our FULL maturity.
In measuring growth and personal development the ONLY growth that mattered to Jesus was a person’s love – its length and breadth – its height and depth. And the ONLY standard of measurement – the ONLY ruler or yardstick that Jesus gives us is God’s way of loving – the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s PERFECT love.
And until we get THERE, my brothers and sisters, we have so much MORE to perfect within us. Unless we see that and grasp THAT… we’ll be just like Alice – wandering about in our own little Wonderland – aimless …and without purpose.
As Yogi once said: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might NOT get there.”