Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for February 19, 2017
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord
13 “You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Worth Noting: Why does the writer repeat the phrase “I am the Lord” six times in this passage? What message does it send to you?
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding,
that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who fear you.
39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good.
40 See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Worth Noting: Paul opens emphasizing the holiness of the Corinthian congregation (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and concludes with a vision of a bountiful Christian life: “all belong to you, and you belong to Christ” (verses 22-23). How is a life of holiness a life of abundance?
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
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 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Worth Noting: Matthew adds to the final verse in the first reading the phrase “and hate your enemy” (see Leviticus 19:18). While critical to make his point, was this addendum warranted in the context of Leviticus 19? Are there risks from doing so?
CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES
Entering into the Scriptures
The commentary for last January 29 addressed the range of possible interpretations for Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. This week’s Gospel selection is the last to be taken from this section of Matthew this year, and it includes perhaps the most challenging teachings of all: to forego retaliation for injury and to love one’s enemy (Matthew 5:39, 44). When the early Christians were part of a political, persecuted minority within the Roman Empire, Jesus’ words were taken literally both for social and for national purposes, as Christians were taught to refrain from serving in the army. As Christians became the dominant political force in the 4th century, however, teachings needed to reflect the new reality: Would Jesus really demand that Christians refuse to defend themselves, their families, their communities, and indeed their Empire from the circling barbarians?
Not surprisingly, Christian authors then and since have responded with forceful arguments in favor of armed response to violence. Over the centuries, Christian theologians worked out the principles of a just war (just cause, last resort, properly authorized, proportionate, likely to succeed) that still resonate in conversations today. Because they are principles, of course different Christians apply them to individual circumstances with widely differing conclusions.
Other Christians, however, have clung to a literal interpretation of the teaching. The Christian Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi taught non-violence in the face of violence, using non-violence as a strategy to overcome superior physical power and to secure human rights. (For a similar result see Proverbs 25:21-22.) Matthew, however, records Jesus offering no hope that his commands will change the enemy and ultimately benefit the oppressed. Indeed, his non-violent acceptance of his Passion provides a contrary lesson.
It’s Just Too Hard!
The Sermon on the Mount, we said a few weeks ago, was meant to stir the imagination of the reader. Matthew presents a number of ultimately “unreasonable” demands on the Christian – and on any community or nation that dares calls itself Christian. Above we thought about the question of the proper use of force to resist aggression. Christians must also confront financial questions, particularly Jesus’ claim that his followers must give and lend to any who ask. Leviticus commands the last fruits of the harvest be left for the poor, at the expense of the farmer’s profit (Leviticus 19:9-10). Luke records Jesus demanding that his followers lend “expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:34-35). In an era of general peacefulness but an obsession with profit maximization, perhaps these teachings are as counter cultural as those on violence.
The Torah (Leviticus 19:2) and Paul (1 Corinthians 3: 16-17) claim that their followers are holy. How do you understand being holy? What are the personal and social dimensions of holiness?
The teaching that the final fruits of the harvest be left for the poor are difficult to enact in today’s urban culture. How might you explain that they may be applied today?
How does your imagination respond to Jesus’ unreasonable demands in the Sermon on the Mount?
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Dennis Haugh, has enjoyed over 20 years’ experience in the field of adult faith formation. Dennis earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program.