YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: HOLINESS IN 3 DIMENSIONS.
BY: Fr Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Lev 19 : 1 – 18, 1 Cor 3 : 16 – 23, Matt 5 : 38 – 48.
Great Saints like St Theresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, etc have identified different stages in our journey towards holiness ; the purgative, illuminative, contemplative, etc. St Gregory the great, in particular has this to say : ‘There are in truth 3 states of the converted ; the beginning, the middle and the perfection. In the beginning, they experience the charms of sweetness, in the middle, the contests of temptation, and in the end, the fullness of perfection’.
John Rose says that ‘The measure of a man’ s holiness is not how great his faith is but how great his love is’. I personally think that Christianity begins with faith, grows through discipline and matures with love. We cannot be fully redeemed without love – without resembling this attribute of our maker. Christ said : ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another as I have loved you’, Jn 13 : 35. Loving like Christ is the real challenge of Christianity. It is called ‘agape love’. Those who can only love those who love them are still mere pagans. Those who cannot love those who love them are sick, demonic or mad people. Only those who can love their enemies can be called Christians. This is my summary of today’s teaching.
Vima Dasan says that ‘hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat’. This is because when we get angry with people and refuse to forgive them, we give them power over our appetite (ulcer). We give them power over our sleep (high blood pressure) and power over our emotions (heart attack). This is why a wise man said that ‘to forgive is to set a prisoner free only to discover that the prisoner was you’. ‘The noblest revenge’, says Vima Dasan, ‘is to forgive’. It is the exercise of the superior power of divinity. ‘To err’, they say, ‘is human, but to forgive is divine’. Children of God must therefore share in this attribute of divinity.
B. DIMENSIONS OF HOLINESS
The 3 readings of today speak about 3 dimensions of holiness ; love, purity and perfection.
(i) Love ; Love begins as attraction or interest (eros). It manifests in care and kindness (sorge /filia) and developes in sacrifice, understanding and tolerance (agape). Today’s 1st reading says : ‘You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy… Don’t hate your brother… Don’t take revenge or bear grudges… Love your neighbour as yourself’.
(ii) Purity ; Purity is the best way of trying to be like God. Jesus said ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’, Matt 5 : 8. When we talk about the purity of mind and body, that is chastity. When we talk about purity of soul, our greatest challenge is to avoid idolatry, defilement and communication with evil spirits and demons.
The 2nd reading of today warns that since our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must try not to defile it through immorality or idolatry. Both have the same effect.
(iii) Perfection / Godliness ; Perfection is the highest attribute of holiness. It has to do with wisdom (having the mind of God). It has to do with docility (learning to surrender to the will of God – that is obedience). It has to do with love (having the heart of God) – ability to give love and to receive/endure hate or insults.
Jesus addresses the challenge of perfection in today’s gospel insisting that we must be wise enough not to resist evil people by their own style. He says we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. ‘A holy man’, says Robert McChenye, ‘is a mighty weapon in the hands of God’. He must try not to be defiled by the enemy through immorality, idolatry or fighting. Ben Carson warns us, ‘Remember, don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it’.
C. HOLINESS AND GRACE
Holiness is essentially a function of grace and human co – operation (effort). There are two sides of grace ; the redemptive and the enabling side of grace.
(i) The redemptive ; Here a believer learns the immensity of what Christ has done at Calvary and believes that ‘It is finished’, Jn 19 : 30. As Pastor David Ogbueli beautiful puts it : ‘The law screams “Do, do, do” and “Don’t, don’t, don’t”. Grace shouts, “It is done, It is done, it is done”. (The Transforming Power of Grace, P. 15).
(ii) The enabling side ; Here a believer learns as St Augustine says that ‘He who created you without you, cannot save you without you’. He has therefore provided us with all kinds of graces to enable us ‘in fear and trembling, to work out our salvation’, Phil 2 : 13. Catechism teaches us about the sanctifying grace (gratia na – edo aso) and the actual grace (gratia inye aka). The former helps us to be holy and the latter assists us in facing practical life challenges, Eph 3 :20, 2 Pet 1 : 3-9.
Even non Christians like the great Mahatma Gandhi of India has found great inspirations from Christ’s teachings on the sermon on the mountain. ‘Non violence is an active force of the highest order. It is a soul force or the power of the God head within us. Even an infinitesimal fraction of it, when it becomes active in us, can work wonders’. So says Mahatma Gandhi . Martin Luther King (Jr ) has based his philosophy of non violence (pacifism) on Christ’s teachings of today’s gospel. ‘To our bitter opponents we say “We shall match your capacity to inflict injury by our capacity to endure suffering”- Martin Luther King Jr. ‘
It is not easy to accept the ‘turn – the – other – cheek’ Ideology from Christ. But whether we like it or not it has become one of the sublime teachings of Christ on human perfection. Christ sets us the paradigm of holiness and no matter how much we philosophize or theologize we can never discard or compromise the words of Christ.
In the face of the present onslaught of Islamic jihadism in Nigeria , I don’t know how far this can take us but going by Church and biblical history, crusades and warfare have never been the best side of the Church. My Bishop has this to say : “If our enemies succeed in making us hate them, then they have conquered us completely. For Christianity without love, including love of the enemy, is empty. And a Christian without that love might as well be of any other religion.”
+Godfrey Igwebuike Onah. Jacob reconciled with his embittered brother Esau through diplomacy, Gen 33. Stephen conquered Saul through forgiveness, Act 7 : 56 – 60. War remains only the last resort for the Church when our security is totally threatened.
Holiness is our greatest source of spiritual power. We get it through devotion, Ps 42, knowledge, Hos 4 : 6 and practice, Js 2 : 18 – 21. Happy Sunday dear friends!
-Fr Benedict Agbo