Homily for Tuesday, 19 June, 2012: Be Perfect? (Like God?!)
1 Kings 21:17–29 / Matthew 5: 43–48
Today’s Old Testament reading brings some completion to the Naboth story. It shows God doing what he has promised, and an appropriate epistle selection to complement today’s readings could be from Romans 12: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (v19b).
But the Gospel reading leaves us just as uncomfortable as yesterday’s –– maybe more so. Jesus ends by giving us what seems an impossible standard: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. And in the context here, there is one specific way we are to be “perfectly” like our heavenly Father: love your enemies. This was the context for the Romans quote (from Deuteronomy32:35): Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17–21).
Why does our Lord command such a hard thing? You see, when evil is committed by another person, it is not just that person doing a bad thing. It is that person being acted on and through by the power of evil itself. The person who is unfair to you is also a victim and needs to be set free by the saving power of Jesus Christ. All of us have been unfair to another in some way, and all of us need to be forgiven. And once we come into that forgiveness, we all need to be agents that God can use to help other people find forgiveness. God wants to extend the grace we have received to everyone. How can we be agents of God’s forgiveness and so help others find forgiveness if we spend our time and energy trying to get back at them when they do not treat us like we think they should? Receiving grace means knowing that apart from our Lord’s love and forgiveness we, too, are helpless and hopeless.
Can we believe that God will judge faithfully the unfairness in our world, or are we compelled to seek our own satisfaction? Jesus knew he could trust the Father to make everything right in his way and in his time. And if Jesus, in his perfect obedience, was willing to bear the unfairness and wait on the Father, then how much more do you and I need to lay aside our tendency of self-vindication and wait for God to bring true justice to the world? If we are not prepared personally to absorb acts of unfairness committed against ourselves, we cannot know what it means to follow Jesus Christ into the depths of his obedience and passion. Jesus trusted God, and Christians today are called to follow Jesus with that kind of trust and love.