On Thursday for our Morning Prayer we had a reading from Leviticus 19, verses: 1-2, 17-18, 33-34. This reading was chosen by the editors of Give Us This Dayas their Morning Prayer reading to complement the gospel on this same day. The gospel reading for the Mass from Luke opened with these verses: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well’” (Luke 6:27-29).
Here is what struck me about the Leviticus reading with its selected excerpts: it reads with a dynamic sensation that builds…like a musical composition that starts soft and crescendos into a climax. In verses 1-2 we hear God saying: ‘Speak to the whole community of Israel: Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy’. What for God is ‘holiness’? I think from this chapter 19 we could say it is ‘love’. For the next verses, 17-18 say this: ‘You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord’. Here in these verses ‘neighbor’ is one’s own kin…it is the people of Israel. Then the circle expands to whom ‘love’ must be extended. In verses 33-34 we hear this: ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself…’ Loving one’s kin and loving the alien as yourself: the extent of God’s love is given more breadth, height, width, and depth.
Looking at both Luke and Matthew’s gospel passages we see how Jesus interprets ‘holiness’: he extends God’s commandment of love to include one’s enemies: whether those enemies are one’s own kin or aliens, strangers, foreigners, politicians of a different persuasion or religious belief. ‘You have heard it said…’ (Mt 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43) but I say to you ‘love your enemies’ (Mt 5:44). No more ‘eye for eye and tooth for tooth’ (Mt 5:38). This is true holiness. This is non-retaliatory love…loving without any conditions, loving without lashing back with tongue or some other non-verbal communication. No: loving as Jesus loved…loving with the love God loves us with, suffering for love’s sake…suffering in this way brings forth God’s redeeming and saving love, a love that transforms the power of darkness.
In the tools of Good Works of the Rule we hear Benedict putting Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s evangelization of the gospel way of loving into concrete practice. All of these tools offer us what it means to be holy…a reality not disconnected from our humanity and motivated by the love that Jesus embodied.Jesus in his teaching asks: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ His reply: ‘The one who does the will of God, this is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mk 3:33-35). It occurred to me that the one who strives to love as Jesus loved, forgiving as he forgave, showing compassion as he did, challenging hypocrisy while still extending mercy, indeed these are his brothers and his sisters and these are those who do the will of God