A reflection on the Scripture Readings for February 19, 2023 — the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. Click here for the audio version.
How many of you think that you are perfect? How many of you think you are holy? This question is for couples. Do you think that your spouse or partner is holy? This is for children. How many of you think that your parents are holy (not perfect, but holy? What makes somebody holy? If you had to name someone who is holy and is alive today, who would that be?
The theme of today’s scripture readings is holiness. In the first reading, God says to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy” (Lev 19:17-18). In the second reading the call to holiness comes in a more convincing question, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). In the gospel reading, Jesus, continuing with the Sermon on the Mount, says to his disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5: 48). In all these passages, holiness or perfection is not presented as an option. It is proposed as the very goal of Christian discipleship.
I would like to offer three practical implications on the theme of holiness.
Basing ourselves on today’s scripture readings I would like to define holiness as making an attempt, no matter how feeble, to be like God. In today’s first reading, God said to the community, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy” (Lev 19:17-18). Jesus puts the same idea in different words when he says, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5: 48). In today’s second reading, Paul suggests a very similar understanding of holiness. He invites the Corinthians to think of themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit. For Paul, holiness is being deeply conscious of the divine presence within us; of being conscious of our identity as God’s tabernacle (1 Cor 3:16).
In other words, holiness is accepting the invitation to be like God; Holiness is striving to be as the heavenly Father. Holiness is becoming aware of our dignity as a dwelling place for God.
Relationship with God
Having defined holiness, the bible explains holiness in relational terms. In other words, holiness is relational. Holiness has two relational dimensions — that with God and that with others. Let me reflect on the first dimension: relationship with God. To understand this further, I am going to draw your attention to the full section of the bible where we find today’s first reading instead of the four verses we read.
If we read the entire section (Lev 19:1-19), God instructs the Israelites to:
- keep the sabbath (19:3),
- to refrain from turning to idols (19:4),
- to offer sacrifices acceptable to the LORD (19:5),
- and to not swear falsely by God’s name, thus profaning the name of God.
All these commandments are meant to develop, strengthen, and sustain a good, strong, healthy, and loving relationship with God.
Today, then, we too are being invited to focus on our relationship with God. For example, let us ensure that we offer the worship that is due to God. The Sabbath is holy, and we must keep it holy. Let us also ensure that we set aside time each day for prayer, scripture, and spiritual silence. Let us ensure that we love God above all, and that no other pursuits — ego, wealth, fame, or any other things — compete with God. May we never profane God’s holy name. And, most of all, may our sacrifice and worship be such that it is acceptable to the Lord. In this way, we become holy like the Lord our God is holy.
Relationship with other people
Relationship with God is only one dimension of holiness. From the biblical perspective, holiness has a second dimension — our relationship with other people. I find it very interesting that in the gospel reading, Jesus’ invitation to be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect comes after he commands his disciples to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43). Jesus even asks, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (Mt 5:46).
The same is true in today’s first reading. If we read the entire section (Lev 19:1-19), holiness is integrally related to relationship with others. It says:
- “Each of you revere your mother and father.”
- It also says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the field to its very edge or gather the gleanings of your harvest or pick your vineyard bare, or gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien.’
- Furthermore, “You shall not steal.
- You shall not deceive or speak falsely to one another. You shall not exploit your neighbor.
- You shall not commit robbery.
- You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer.
- You shall not insult the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.
- You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment, show partiality to the weak, deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly.
- You shall not go about spreading slander among your people, nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
- You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart.
- You shall take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people.
Putting it positively, God simply says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 10:18).
Today, we are being invited to strengthen our relationships with one another, even with our enemies. Every attempt we make to love our neighbor as ourselves is an attempt at holiness. In this way, we become holy like the Lord our God is holy.
As Catholics, receiving Christ in the Eucharist is the greatest help we can receive as we strive to be holy. Indeed, we are the temples of the Holy Spirit because Christ lives in us. Let us become aware of our identity as God’s dwelling, as God’s tabernacle. And may it lead us to deeper relationship with God and with one another. Amen.
Image: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.