Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 79

The LORD said to Moses,
"Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."

The Book of Leviticus is called "the holiness code" because in it we find specific instruction about how we should be -- that is, "holy" -- and how we should act, without hatred toward anyone. 

"Acting without hatred toward anyone" might go without saying. But it needs to be said -- often. Or perhaps I should say, "I need to hear this often." Especially the part about reproving your fellow citizen. 

I notice the Lord doesn't say, "Thou shalt not reprove your fellow citizen." Nor does He say, "Rather than reprove your fellow citizen, avoid him at all costs." Disowning, distancing, divorcing or abandoning your fellow citizen is not an option. Rather, "do not incur sin" when you have to reprove someone. 

The Gospel of Saint Matthew, the most legalistic of the four gospels, allows excommunication only as a last resort, as a kind of tough love for bringing a beloved brother or sister back into the fold. Perhaps, when the offending party sees we cannot and will not abide his behavior, he will be shocked into recognizing how offensive it is. But we want to avoid that last resort whenever possible. 

There can be no community or fellowship that does not have to occasionally reprove a member. I think of it with the metaphor of a tree. Plant a certain tree in the middle of a dense forest and it will grow tall and narrow, pushing itself up through the other trees and into the sky. Plant the same tree in the middle of an open field, it will spread out as far as it wants, with no interference from other trees. 

People do that. I do that. In a vacuum of companionship I take as much space as I want. But with others around me, I observe the boundaries of other people and stay within my own. If I fail to notice someone's boundaries, I may overstep mine and be reproved. If, for some bizarre reason, I think I am superior to another person -- due to my race, religion, gender, pay  grade, or standing in the community -- I may need a severe rebuke and a taste of humiliation to pull back to my own legitimate space. But if no one says anything to me when I persistently overstep my rightful zone, whose fault is that? 

I played a game of Risk one time with a classmate's brothers and sisters. I ran them all off the board in no time. The next day my friend, who had not played the game, told me none of his family would challenge "the priest." I had no idea, but I was embarrassed. 

In a worse scenario, I may belong to a community that thinks I deserve a superior position, and even that I have the right to overstep my boundaries. In such a predicament, we will be blessed if our "inferiors" rebel against our insufferable attitudes and demand their rights. In the worst-case, we will incur the wrath of a Just and Mighty God. 

The holiness code urges us to reprove our fellow citizens without incurring sin. Insults, name-calling, exaggeration, insinuation and so forth do not contribute to peace; they only make matters worse. Often, we have to wait for the right moment. There's no point in berating an inebriated alcoholic; he won't even remember the exchange. Rather, we wait, pray and ask God to give us the right words and provide the right opportunity for his healing, merciful, rectifying grace to flood our fellowship. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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