Saturday 12 March – Week 1 of Lent
(1) Deuteronomy 26:16-19
Walking in the way of the Lord
This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.
Responsorial: from Psalm 119
R./: Happy are those who follow the law of the Lord
They are happy whose life is blameless,
who follow God’s law.
They are happy those who do his will,
seeking him with all their hearts. (R./)
You have laid down your precepts
to be obeyed with care.
May my footsteps be firm
to obey your statutes. (R./)
I will thank you with an upright heart
as I learn your decrees.
I will obey your statutes;
do not forsake me. (R./)
Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
Our vocation is to become perfect, in God’s image
Jesus said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Answering God’s call
God first chose Israel (and we belong to the new Israel), as a people especially gifted and beloved. Our special gift is awareness of the divine presence in the depths of our mind and heart, and enshrined in the prayer and traditions of our church. The divine presence surrounds us like the sun and the rain, the very oxygen we breathe. Even while we sleep, God summons the sun to spread its light across our day; while we worry about global warming, God has the rain drop moisture on our dry earth and weary hearts. God first loves us.
Just as God loves us, each of us is called to respond “with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy returns repeatedly to the words “now” and “today” as the privileged moment to respond to God. “Today you are making this agreement with the Lord.” Our covenant with God needs to be renewed each day. Chapter 1 of Joshua extends the today of Deuteronomy into a recital of God’s love and our loving response “by day and by night” (Josh 1:8).
Lent is a time for some kind of fasting and renewal of personal prayer, so that we may be disposed to let rhythm of God’s spirit take possession of ours. Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord.
Perfection is not perfectionist
If someone a perfectionist, it suggests a martinet, demanding to get everything precisely right, down to the last detail. When Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” he did not ask for fussy perfectionism. The corresponding passage in Luke’s gospel is almost identical with today’s passage from Matthew, except that in place of perfect, Luke has “merciful” “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” Luke has interpreted what Jesus meant by “being perfect.”
Being perfect means being loving to an extraordinary degree, loving our enemy, praying for those who persecute us, who make life difficult for us. Being perfect consists in loving in the way that God loves, which is with a love that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of how people relate to us. This is the pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that Jesus calls on us to love as God loves shows that he does not consider this call unrealistic. We may not be able to love in this divine way on our own, but we can do so with God’s help. As Jesus will say to his disciples later on in Matthew’s gospel, “for God, all things are possible.”