Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (19 & 20/2/22)

posted 21 Feb 2022, 01:21 by Parish Office

Burglary and theft are two crimes which can particularly get people annoyed. You shouldn’t have to live in a society where you expect people to break in and steal your property. I can remember as a teenager coming back from school, and as I arrived at the front of the house, I could see into one of the upstairs windows, and I could tell that something was wrong. We had been burgled. Apparently, my sister went up into her room, and came back and said to my mother, “My bedroom’s in a mess”. My mom must have said something like, “But it’s always in a mess”. Anyway, in all our bedrooms, all the draws had been pulled out, as someone, or a group of people, had rapidly gone through the house, trying to find something to steal. They didn’t get away with much in the end, and my dad had unintentionally disturbed them when he returned at lunch time to collect a few computer items and return them to the shop. But the fact that they hadn’t really taken anything didn’t matter. For a while, you didn’t feel safe in your own home.

I remember at some point later on, my mother said that we must pray for the people that did this. My thoughts had been more along the lines of making sure they received a good punishment. Which one was the more Christian response? It does say, it is true, in the Old Testament, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (see Exodus 21:24). But the idea of that was to limit vengeance – eye for eye, and no more. In the Gospel, Christ shows us a better and a higher way – the way of love: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. There is also, built-in here, the important principle that people are more important than things. People come first, and things take second place. You don’t, for the sake of things that have been stolen, then go and beat up the thief, leaving him half-dead. It might be tempting sometimes, but you don’t. St Augustine once explained why:

“You raged against your enemy, and raging you robbed him; but you have become evil. There is a great difference between a person robbed and one who is evil. He has lost his money; you have lost your integrity of soul. See if you can find out which has suffered the greater loss. He lost something that will perish; you have become someone who will perish.”

Rather strong words. Part of the idea of eye for eye and tooth for tooth was to limit vengeance, rather than it spiralling out of control. So let’s look at another example, this time from the first reading. King Saul has decided to hunt David

down and has gone after him with three thousand men. David and Abishai manage to creep into Saul’s camp whilst everyone is asleep. What if David had allowed Abishai to defeat his enemy by killing the king? But instead, by taking the spear and pitcher of water and leaving, he showed that he bore the king no ill-intent. It paved the way towards reconciliation.

“[L]ove your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” We are called by Christ to a higher standard than simply trying to get even and mete out a just punishment. “If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend from those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount.” The message here is not just to try and be the same as everyone else. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Our intention should be for the betterment of our neighbour and our enemy, not his or her downfall. St Augustine commented on this by saying, “We are therefore to correct with charity; not with the desire to hurt him, but with the wish to help him. If this is our intention, we shall do very well what this day we have been admonished to do.”

What do we do with thieves and burglars? We could try attaching them to a spit on the parish barbecue. They wouldn’t do it again, although I think the police might have something to say if we did that. Our intention should be for the reform of the sinner, for his (or her) redemption. For we are all sinners: can anyone claim to be sinless in God’s sight? “[Do] not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.” This Gospel can be a tough Gospel, and working out some of the practicalities of it isn’t always straightforward. But if we turn into a people of vengeance, we have lost. We have to conquer hate with love, evil with good. We have to show them a better way; we have to show them the face of God, not just “more of the same”. They may have lost their soul; we have to be careful we don’t also lose ours. And if we can, we want to help them save their soul too. When St Stephen was martyred, the people placed their cloaks at the foot of a man called Saul. It was St Stephen’s later privilege to welcome St Paul into heaven. Just imagine if we could do the same.