7th Sunday Ordinary Time (February 23, 2014)
1 Cor 3:16-23
Today’s readings are tough to hear…at least for me. I have personally struggled to develop this homily because I know I fail in some way with each point being made in today’s Scripture readings. Here’s the highlights in cased you missed them: Be holy. Do not hold grudges. Our bodies are temples of God. Take no revenge. Give to the one who asks of you. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and strive for perfection like your heavenly Father. I fully realize that I don’t like these readings because they call me to constantly examine and change my heart and therefore my actions. And change can be very hard.
Seriously…many of us struggle to love our own friends and family, so how are we supposed to love our enemies?? And to turn the other check?? Our culture tells us that only the tough survive and that if someone pushes us, we need to push back even harder! And you can forget about perfection! Every time I sin I’m reminded of how imperfect I am. So how can I possibly be holy?
It was in a moment of prayer that I realized that line of thinking is precisely the problem. I was confusing the world’s definition of perfection with God’s definition of perfection and how it all relates to holiness. Allow me to try and clear this up with a true story.
A Dutch Christian family by the name of Ten Boom was living in the Netherlands when the Nazi regime invaded their county in 1940. The Ten Booms had made a secret room behind a closet wall in the upstairs bedroom to hide Jews if Nazi soldiers ever searched their house.
Corrie, the youngest daughter of four, would go out and bring back food rations for the people they hid in their house. On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family and they were all arrested. Corrie spent 10 months in a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. After her release, she returned to the Netherlands and set up a rehabilitation center to help concentration camp survivors and even the Dutch informants who turned in their fellow countrymen to the Nazi’s. In 1946, she began traveling the world as a public speaker and wrote numerous books. One very powerful story she wrote about happened when she was teaching in Germany in 1947. One of the former Nazi concentration camp guards, known to have been one of the cruelest, approached her. Corrie was very reluctant to forgive him for obvious reasons. But she turned to prayer and described the encounter by saying, “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” Corrie went on to say that in her post-war experience with other concentration camp survivors that, “those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.”
“Forgiveness is letting go of a bell rope,” Corrie further explains. “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”
This story is what holiness is all about. Corrie held no grudge against the former Nazi guard. She could have punched, yelled or spat at him. But instead of hating this enemy, she extended her hands and offered a forgiving embrace. She let go of the bell rope. And in doing so showed us an example of perfect love through her holy actions.
Isn’t this what Jesus did for all of us? The Jewish people at the time were waiting for their messiah. They assumed he would be a great military leader that would destroy their oppressors with force. Instead, God sent his Son to teach us how to live and love in an entirely new way. Ultimately, when faced with evil, Jesus did not fight back with violence or run away. Neither would have done the world any good. Rather he stood His ground and taught people how to live rightly. This eventually led to his death. A death he willingly cooperated with and by doing so changed the world by showing us a more perfect way.
To drop a grudge, offer forgiveness or to love an enemy is, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as we can get. Why? Because it means you are not worried about yourself. You are not expecting repayment or trying to get approval from someone else. You are simply respecting and loving the other person as God loves. So it is in our holy actions that we achieve moments of perfection.
Granted there will be days when we sin by choosing evil over good. But God, in His infinite greatness, gave us a way to receive His grace and start over when we fall short through confession and penance. The sacrament of reconciliation gives us a clean slate. It is the perfect response in the face of sin.
So perfection in the eyes of God is not having the perfect car, the perfect family or even a perfect credit score. It’s not about making perfect choices every time we’re faced with a decision. The perfection God is calling us to involves making right choices and repenting when we don’t. It involves forgiveness and willing the good of others, even if you don’t like them all that much. God is asking you to be holy because He made you and knows that you are capable of it. You are, after all, created in His image and likeness. And if we will just let go of that bell rope long enough…all of the anger, hate and confusion of this world will one day stop…
So don’t focus on being perfect according to worldly standards, but rather focus on being holy through good actions. That is all God is asking of you. The more you fill your days with holiness, the more perfect you will be in the eyes of God.