Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 19: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thursday, February 16, 2023

To be like God

Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8m, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Editors’ note: It is with great sadness that we mourn the Nov. 8, 2022, death of Passionist Father Donald Senior, whose Scripture column we were honored to publish over the past six years. As we look for a new Scripture columnist, we will continue reprinting Father Don’s past columns, with the permission of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

On Oct. 2, 2006, a mentally ill man entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish village of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and, after letting the teacher and the boy pupils leave, proceeded to shoot eight young girls, ages 6 to 13, killing five of them and severely wounding the rest. Afterward he took his own life.

This terrible act of violence was followed by a remarkable act of forgiveness and reconciliation on the part of the grieving Amish community there. They visited the shooter’s widow and children, provided them with food and money, and attended the man’s funeral. Why? Because, the community’s elders said, they were followers of Jesus and prayed the Lord’s Prayer every day, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.”

Such a compelling example of faith and love in the face of wanton violence throws light on the Gospel passage we hear at this Sunday’s liturgy. Continuing to draw from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, we encounter what may be the most radical and uniquely characteristic teaching of Jesus: “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.” What is key about this teaching of Jesus is the motivation for such heroic love: “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.”

Jesus concludes: “So you must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek word translated for “perfect” is "teleios" and literally means "to be complete." The sense is that striving to love an enemy rather than reciprocating their violence and hatred makes one act as God acts, God whose love is lavish, unearned and indiscriminate.

Here several deep currents of Jesus’ teaching and that of the New Testament as a whole rise to the surface. The God revealed by Jesus is a God of wondrous love and forgiveness. John’s Gospel portrays the entire mission of Jesus, particularly his own giving of his life out of love, as a revelation of this incomprehensible love of God for us.

Expressed here is another astounding biblical teaching ratified in Christian tradition: namely, that we are called to be like God. The creation account in the first chapter of Genesis declared that we human beings were formed “in the image and likeness of God.” In the same vein, the first reading from Leviticus declares: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Similarly, in the second reading Paul reminds his community in Corinth: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

The remarkable truth of Christian faith is that in refusing to treat others with hatred and violence, and instead loving generously and in a spirit of reconciliation, we manifest divine qualities. We become holy as God is holy.

Here we find an inspiring portrait of the human person as God intended. There are moments, such as the response of the Amish community in Nickel Mines, where we clearly see the astounding capacity of those who are able to respond with forgiveness and love in the face of raw violence and hatred. There are also examples of ordinary Christians who in quiet and unheralded ways choose not to pass on enmity but to strive for reconciliation instead. This is the God-like beauty of the Christian life to which we are called.



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