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Tuesday – Eleventh week – OT1
Readings: 2 Cor 8:1-9; Mt 5:43-48.
1/ First Reading: RSV 2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — 5 and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. 7 Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
2/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I. THEME: The duty to be perfected
There are many reasons for people to refuse the vocation to be perfected. Firstly some say that they are living in the world and they must do anything in order to survive. Secondly, the vocation to be perfected is only for some, not for all people. They want to be normal and to live a secluded life. Lastly, some say that Christ asked us to do impossible thing that exceeds human ability! How can one discard all his weaknesses to become perfected while he still has a human body?
Today readings concentrate on the requirements which the faithful must try to fulfill. In the first reading, St, Paul invited the Corinthian faithful to generously contribute for the Mother Church in Jerusalem, to help her to have the mean for preaching the Gospel everywhere. In the Gospel, Jesus demanded his disciples to exceed worldly standard so they can love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.
1/ Reading I: The duty to contribute to the Church
Though Jerusalem was the Mother Church, but she was poor because of the geography and there is no systematic contribution from all churches as we have now. Therefore, St. Paul organized a fundraising from local churches to help Mother Church in Jerusalem.
1.1/ The good example of Macedonian church: To encourage the Corinthian faithful to eagerly contribute, Paul gave them an exemplar of the Macedonian church.
(1) The poor are generous contributors: Macedonia wasn’t a rich region, in addition to that, the faithful there also faced many catastrophes; but when they heard about St. Paul’s fundraising to help the Mother Church, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part;for they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will.”
The rich should be generous benefactors because they have means to give; but reality shows otherwise, the more they have the less they want to give. The poor are more generous to give because they had experience to live poorly so they easily have compassion with those who are under the same condition.
(2) Love for the Church behind their contribution: St. Paul continued to describe the Macedonian faithful’s generosity, they begged “us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.”
Faith is the priceless gift which God bestows on the faithful through Christ’s disciples and missionaries. If there is no Mother Church, there should never have churches. Therefore, as the generous children help their parents when they grow old; the faithful must also contribute to the Mother Church so she can fulfill her duty of bringing the Gospel to the end of the earth.
1.2/ Paul wants the Corinthian church to generously contribute for the Jerusalem Church: He wrote to them: “Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work.” He cited them two reasons for it.
(1) Those who received much must give accordingly: Paul said, “Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also.I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”
(2) Christ’s exemplar: The faithful must imitate Christ. He sacrificed himself for all to live. Paul advised the faithful to follow him in sacrificing for others, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The faithful can’t be compared with Christ, but his example must be the exemplar for all faithful to follow.
2/ Gospel: You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
2.1/ The ancient’s versus Jesus’ law: Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
(1) First, we need to make a distinction between the three verbs “to love” in Greek, they are: erein, philein, agapan. The verb that was used in both vv.43 and 44 is “agapan;” this verb is only used in Christian literature. Christ doesn’t demand us to love our enemies with natural love as we love our beloved or people in our family (erein, philein); he demands us to love our enemies with the divine love (agapan). If he asked us to do so, he demanded us to love against our nature. The difference between the natural love and the divine love is that: when we naturally love, we use the heart; but when we love enemies, we must use our will. It is an agreement between our intellect and will.
(2) Secondly, we can only love our enemies if we are permeated with Christ’s teaching and love. According to St. John, this love originates from God and is given to us from Christ. Jesus demands his disciples to remain in this love by keeping his commandments before he demands them “to love others as I have love you.”
(3) Lastly, we must live according to Christ’s teaching. To be able to love our enemies, we must pray for them. If we can pray for them, God shall help us to completely forgive for our enemies. On the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father! forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). St. Stephen, our first martyr, imitated Christ by praying before his death: “Lord! Do not hold this sin against them” (Act 7:56). Many saints imitated Christ to forgive those who persecuted them; their lives prove that Christ’s demand doesn’t exceed human capacity.
2.2/ The reasons why we should love our enemies: Jesus gave us four reasons:
(1) To become God’s children: “A new born bird shall have a similar trait as his mother; if it is not in face, it shall be in wings.” What makes us to look similar to God the most is love. Jesus said of God’s love as follows: “for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” To look like God, we must love our enemy.
(2) Jesus’ disciple must be different with others: Jesus asks his disciples: “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?”
(3) A Christian must be different with a Gentile: “And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?”
(4) To be perfect: ” So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” To be perfect is God’s purpose when He created human beings, as Genesis wrote: “God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We must return something to God because of graces which He has given to us. We must help the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body because our faith comes from the Church’s preaching through missionaries.
– We are God’s children and must live according to standards of the heavenly kingdom, not to be satisfied with worldly standards. One of standards which makes us to look like God is to love and to pray for our enemies.