7th Sunday C
Sunday 19th February 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Mt 5: 33-48
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Our tradition has said that if someone hurts you, they should be punished in equal measure to how much they hurt you: eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. But I am telling you: don’t react to the wicked. If they insult you, take it; be prepared to accept even more insults. If they take you to court wanting your best suit, give them your whole wardrobe. If a hitchhiker wants a lift, drive him all the way to his destination. Be generous to all, don’t even look away and find excuses when someone wants to borrow from you.
‘Our tradition has told you: love those who belong to your own group and hate your enemies. But I am telling you: love your enemies, pray for those seeking to destroy you. When you act like this you are truly God’s children. God doesn’t give the sun or the rain depending on whether we have been bad or good. God just gives. How can you think well of yourself for loving those who love you: even the mobsters and drug dealers do that? And what’s so special about welcoming those who welcome you? Even the worst of people do that. You must act towards all people as your Father in heaven acts towards them.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 102:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13.
I will praise God from the core of my soul,
every part of my being blessing God.
Giving thanks and blessing to God
is the essence of my existence.
God is the one who forgives all your guilt,
who heals all your problems,
who lifts all your desolation
surrounding you with love and compassion.
God, so compassionate and loving,
comes to us, not in anger, but full of mercy.
God does not let our faults and sins
determine how God loves.
From one side of the universe to the other
is the distance God throws our sins away.
As a father’s love flows with compassion
So God’s tenderness flows to those who revere God.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving Father, you call us to be as generous in loving as you yourself are but we well know the weaknesses and liabilities of our hearts. Send us your Spirit to school our hearts and lives into Jesus’ way of loving. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
In this Sunday’s Gospel we continue the series of antitheses that Jesus makes between religious tradition and his new way of living. What Jesus offers are not so much new ‘rules’ to be strictly applied but rather ‘thought experiments’, ‘imaginative exercises’ to shock us into seeing life as God does.
We often fail to realise what a difference having an independent police force and judiciary makes to the working of society. Without such, a society needs some mechanism to stop retaliation spiralling out of control. In ancient Jewish society the law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – _lex talionis_ – did just that. It kept revenge within boundaries, promoted personal responsibility for wrong-doing, affirmed the equality of all persons before the law and determined a just proportion between crime and punishment. In short, it was an excellent law. But Jesus offers his followers more. No longer are they to have their attitude to wrong-doing determined by due proportion. They are to be graced to be free enough to act like God: generously and lovingly in all situations. The examples Jesus offers seem almost ludicrous until we realise that these are the responses of a free spirit.
It is this same freedom to be like God that is to shape our attitude to enemies and people outside our social group. Jesus tells us we do not need to live with a ‘them and us’ attitude. Grounded in the deep, abiding, personal love of our heavenly Father, we can offer that same love freely to all persons.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
How are we to deal with negative behaviour? How are we to view people who are enemies or even just strangers? When confronted by the negative or strange behaviour, our human tendency is to protect ourselves either by lashing out or by withdrawing – _fight or flight¬_. But Jesus calls us to act with the freedom of the children of God, which reveals itself in love. We are to disarm people by generosity.
When fearful, we tend to define ourselves in opposition to other people. When this happens it becomes so easy to boost our self-esteem by putting others down. If, rather, we define ourselves in relation to God, recognising that we are God’s beloved, acting with love will be our only option.
This certainly does not mean we allow bad behaviour – that is unloving. Parents, teachers, employers, friends know that discipline and confrontation are integral to true human growth. On the level of our society, the notion of ‘Restorative Justice’ expresses the vision that Jesus presents. In this way of dealing with criminals, the wrong doer is confronted by his or her victims with the intention of helping them all to heal from the wrong that has been done. This is not a soft option for dealing with evil and injustice. Rather it is the tougher option: attempting to get a person whose moral sense is faulty to face the consequences of their wrong actions is difficult. Ever since God confronted Adam and Eve in the garden, our default position when faced with our own wrong doing is to blame someone or something else. ‘Restorative Justice’ treats all people with dignity and respect. It offers the hope, which, with some people, can seem the impossible: hope, that grace and healing can come out of wrong doing.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order that cares for the elderly. In the days before government funding of aged care, they were very reliant on charity and begging was a feature of their life. A story is told of one of the Randwick sisters going into the shop of a local butcher who was notoriously anti-Catholic. ‘Do you have something for my poor?’ she asked. ‘Yes, here,’ he replied, and picking up a large piece of steak slapped her across the face. As she regained her balance, she said simply, ‘Thank you, that was for me. Now do you have something for my poor?’ The butcher became one of the Sisters staunchest supporters. Even if he hadn’t, even if he had ejected her and her companion with ridicule, he did not provoke from her behaviour that was less than Christian. She responded in love rather than react with hurt. He had treated her appallingly, she treated him with dignity. If fact, in her response she treated her poor, the other customers and even herself with dignity. She didn’t retaliate in kind, nor did she scuttle out of the shop, embarrassed and ashamed. She was big enough to absorb the insult and continue with what she believed to be the right thing to do.
There is a prevailing view in our society that if something bad happens to us, it will necessarily have a bad influence on us – we will be angry, depressed, disorientated. This is not the Christian viewpoint. We can chose to respond with love in any negative situation. The Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism, is ever hovering at our shoulder, desiring to give us the inspiration to transform the life’s dark places into places of grace. When we act on that inspiration, we become true children of God – generous in love.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
St Martin of Tours was a popular saint of the 4th century. He was a soldier and a candidate for baptism. When confronted by a naked beggar in the snow, he cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. That evening in a dream he saw an enthroned Jesus Christ telling his angels that he has received this cloak from Martin. This story has many versions in Christian art. Here are two versions.
– Simone Martini St Martin and the Beggar a 14th century Italian painter of the Sienese school.
– El Greco St Martin and the Beggar 16th century. Originally from Crete, he studied in Venice but is generally known as a Spanish painter.
– Sofiya Inger’s Forgiveness s a contemporary Russian painter, living in the USA. You will need to scroll down for her evocative painting ‘forgiveness’.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Mull about a recent time when you felt insulted. Try to imagine different ways that you could have responded that do not involve insult in return.
Mull about the groups to which you belong – family, church, work, school. Who is on the outer?
Who determines who is on the outer? Are there small gestures you could do to make some people feel more welcome?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Accept that love as the ground of your being.
Now consider a relationship that is causing you serious concern. Imagine that person grounded in the love of God, irrespective our how they act – let them be loved.
Now, grounded in God’s love, imagine different ways you could respond to their behaviour that are not negative. Let you mind run free, think of funny things, silly things, wise things – anything that does not degrade the other person, yourself or another person. Ask Jesus to let you be even freer in what responses you could imagine. These are only thoughts and there is no limit to your imagination so long as it is positive.
Rest in the love of your God.