Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:38-48
February 23, 2020

Our Gospel concludes with what certainly seems to be a near impossible challenge. Jesus calls us to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Well, if “perfection” is necessary for redemption, then a whole lot of us are in a whole lot of trouble. We can take a little comfort, however, in our understanding of the word “perfect.” We say that something is “perfect” when it is as good as it can possibly be.

In terms of our spiritual life…most of us have a lot of room for improvement…before we are…as good as we can possibly be.

Until we draw our last breath, we are works in progress.

And so, all three Readings proclaimed on this 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time are especially helpful and very fitting for us to hear as we prepare to begin the penitential season of Lent. At its core, Lent is all about self-improvement. Lent is the season of opportunity…opportunity to make possibilities realities. The reality we are stretching towards is “holiness.” And so, this week’s Readings outline a perfect Lenten program, which, if followed, enable us to progress towards our ultimate goal of “holiness.”

Both the First Reading from Leviticus as well as the opening line of the Gospel establish, as a starting point, our relationships with one another. The Old Testament passage is broad in scope, addressing the entire community. The passage proclaimed at Mass is shortened, but what we hear is that Israel will be the best it can possibly be, a “holy nation,” if everyone lives in mutual love and respect.

It follows, then, that our Church…if we are to be the best we can possibly be…must foster among our members a spirit of mutual love and respect…not only for the person sitting next to us in the pew, but rather, for all humankind. If we put the needs of others on the same plane as our own cares and concerns, our Church, our nation, our world…will become holy even as our Creator is holy. There’s a whole lot of work to be done.

Jesus seems to be telling us to start small; in other words, with ourselves and our own relationships…especially those which are most hurtful or most demanding. It seems unlikely that we are expected to take a second hit from those who have injured us. But, if we can turn away, distancing ourselves from the injury and the possibility of escalating violence, we diminish the possibility of further harm and create an opportunity for healing. When we react to a personal injury with anger and the desire for revenge, the wound only deepens.

We may not be able to perfect every troubled relationship, but by doing our best to live out this Gospel, there is an opportunity to make things as good as they can be until they are healed through Divine Mercy and forgiveness in the Kingdom.

The Lord is also encouraging us to give it our all. When we think we have done all we can to make ourselves as good as we can possibly be…we have to redouble our efforts and keep striving for perfection and for holiness…until our last breath. There is no doubt that we are not going to perfect ourselves in 40 days, but, with God’s help and our efforts, we can improve.

We begin the self-improvement project this coming Wednesday, when we mark ourselves with ashes as a sign to the world that we are indeed works in progress, hopeful that, one day, we will be perfected through the healing touch of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, all things have been made possible.