February 19, 2023 at Saint William Church in Naples, FL
Leviticus 19, 1-2 & 17-18 + Psalm 103 + First Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48
We are all big on that business of being “perfect”. Jesus didn’t have to tell us to do that. We like to be perfect which usually means being right in every argument. So, we like to have the last word. We get impatient with everyone else who is less perfect than we are wishing they could be as perfect as we are. Perfection is the game of the day in this world. So, when we sit with the Word of God today we might do well do wonder just how God is perfect and what it means and what that looks like.
Behind this is really a theme of holiness, because that’s really what God is, Holy. In fact, we just heard that as God spoke to Moses saying “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” That’s the perfection Jesus is speaking of to his disciples. It might come as a surprise to notice, and maybe you never have, that when speaking of holiness there is hardly any mention of prayer. Holiness always has something to do with relationships. I know a lot of people who don’t seem to spend a lot of time in prayer, but I always sense their holiness by the way they treat other people, and if you notice in the Gospels Jesus goes off to pray now and then, but that never attracts others or brings them to awe nearly as much as the way he treats people. It seems to me that this is the way to real holiness. Imitation of the way Jesus treats other is the perfect imitation of God.
That first reading from Leviticus describes holiness as a change of heart. It suggests that we encounter holiness in people who have learned to free themselves from attitudes that reject and judge others. Those are holy people. Those are people to imitate. I’ve always believed that we humans are natural mimics. It starts early in life. I have little four-year-old grandnephew who loves to put on his father’s shoes, and he walks around the house exactly the way his father does with his father’s gestures and looks. He gets into his father’s tool box and begins fixing things around the house. Teenagers watch and imitate the trend setters when it comes to dress, vocabulary and even behavior sometimes with disastrous results. I’ve also noticed that couples married for a long time slowly but obviously over the years begin to think, look, and act like each other. You might be shaking your head no, but I am here to tell you, I’ve heard some of you finishing one another’s sentences and stories. Good friends do the same thing.
My friends, we can hardly go wrong by deciding to mimic God. Our image of God will determine not only our concept of holiness, but also our sense of justice and of what it means to live a good life. The one concept of holiness Jesus reveals about God is mercy. The only way we can claim our full humanity and divine destiny is to live up to the image of God imprinted on our very being. Oppression and violence dehumanize those who abuse and humiliate others. They are the first victims of their own behavior because they will never know God. Loving enemies is the path to wholeness because hating diminishes our capacity to be our true selves and experience how full and wonderful our lives are meant to be. The commandment of love of God and neighbor is the very foundation of civilization and spiritual harmony.
When whole societies seethe with distrust and fear, a winner-take-all spirit of class and racial hatred, blame, and exclusion, everyone is diminished. Jesus’ command to “be holy as God is holy” is not an option it the only way to come out of darkness and chaos becoming the Beloved Community we were created to be. It is in the end the choice between life and death, and it is in our highest self-interest to choose life.