A reflection on the readings for February 20, 2022 — The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Different elements make what we call religion, faith tradition, Christianity, or Catholicism. A religion encompasses many dimensions – revelation, doctrines, traditions, rituals, practices, and ethics. Together, they make a religious tradition, and more specifically for us, Catholicism.
During different days and seasons of the year, the scripture readings at liturgy focus on different dimensions of our faith. Sometimes the focus is on revelation. For instance, God appearing to Moses in the burning bush is an example of divine revelation. Similarly, we consider Jesus’ incarnation to be the climax of divine self-revelation. At other times, the focus is on doctrines. From the creation story, for example, emerge our doctrines about God, human origin, sin, and redemption. In the New Testament Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God and the Paraclete are examples of doctrines. Often enough, the focus of the scripture readings is also on rituals. The institution of the Passover in the book of Exodus and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper are examples of communal ritual celebrations. And finally, there is ethics or morality – the demands that revelation, doctrine, and rituals make on our daily conduct.
Today’s scripture readings are primarily about ethics. Ethics is not merely about dos and don’ts. Particularly from the Christian perspective, ethics is the practical living out of God’s revelation, of our doctrines and our rituals. Our ethics give feet to our faith, our doctrines, and our rituals. Ideally, these different realities form a seamless reality in our lives. But the opposite can also be true – there are people who profess their faith but whose lives contradict their beliefs.
In light of all this, I would like to offer some reflections that emerge from today’s scripture readings, as well as the practical implications for our own lives.
The Link between Revelation, Doctrine, and Ethics
Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. On the one hand, this passage is overwhelmingly tilted toward morality and ethics. However, it also is a great example of Christian ethics taking shape from divine revelation. Thus, Jesus’ ethical demand to his followers, “love your enemies,” is based on the all-important revelation, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Jesus not only lays out the demands but gives us the rationale and motivation for that demand. Jesus says, “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6:35). In other words, our ethics originates from our faith in the God we worship.
Here is the question, I propose we ask ourselves: “Is my ethic consistent with God’s self-revelation?” To put it differently, “Are my faith and action consistent with each other?” When our faith and ethics are consistent, it is called Christian discipleship. When our faith in who God is, our doctrines, rituals, and ethics are inconsistent, it is called hypocrisy.
The Ethical Demands of Christian Discipleship
In this second point, I am going to rearrange today’s Gospel and put it into a different format—in the form of 12 demands:
- Love your enemies.
- Do good to those who hate you.
- Bless those who curse you.
- Pray for those who mistreat you.
- Give to everyone who asks.
- Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
- Lend without expecting anything back.
- Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.
- Stop judging.
- Stop condemning.
- Forgive and you will be forgiven.
- Give and gifts will be given back to you.
The practical implication I am going to propose is straightforward. This week, let us examine our consciences in light of these twelve ethical demands. The motivation for this exercise is simply this – to examine whether my life is good intersection between my faith and the daily living of my faith. Most probably we are going to realize that our life is mixed bag. We might do well in some areas and not in others. The realization can help us grow in Christian discipleship.
Life – A Story of Christian Discipleship
Stories bring scripture to life. Today’s first reading gives us a story that further reinforces the link between faith and ethics. Saul, the first king of Israel, had become jealous of the young David. David’s defeat of Goliath had made him a darling of the Israelites. Saul sought to eliminate David. On this fateful day, David found Saul in an absolutely vulnerable position. A thrust of the spear could have eliminated the fast-asleep Saul. But David resists the temptation. Ethically, David must be commended. However, the story also gives us the reason for David’s magnanimous conduct. David said this to Saul, “Though the LORD delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam 26:23). His belief that the anointed of the Lord must not be harmed led him to spare his enemy. His belief guided his ethic. His faith guided his conduct.
Today’s Gospel reading offers us a divine revelation – the heavenly Father is merciful. Today’s Gospel also offers us an ethical demand that flows from that revelation: be merciful. Finally, today’s Gospel offers us twelve practical ways to be merciful just as the heavenly Father is merciful. As you look at the revelation, the doctrine, and the ethical demands that flow from the revelation and doctrine.
I suggest that based on today’s revelation, doctrine, and ethical demands, could you write a story from your own life that replicates David’s story? This exercise can not only help us to make our faith in God a lived experience, but it can also encourage and motivate us to be sincere in our daily following of Christ. It can truly help us to unite our faith in God, our worship, and our life into one seamless experience. After all, at the end of our life, our entire life should tell the story of faith lived out in real life; of our faith and ethics bearing witness to Christ.
Image: David spares Saul. By Sadeler, Johannes (1550-c1600) – http://hdl.handle.net/1887.1/item:1623007, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=100257355
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.