The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
What do you consider to be the worst event to have ever happened to Christianity?
You will probably consider my answer way off the beaten track but do you remember Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 whereby he legalized and tolerated Christianity? Or 380 the Edict of Thessalonica by Emperor Theodosius who designated Christianity as the imperial religion. Why would I consider these as the worst events in our history? What do these dusty edicts have to do with us and Christians today?
Consider…with legalization and imperial approval the persecution of Christians stopped.
What meaning can Jesus’s teachings have for us? Teaching such as, “Blessed are they who are persecuted…” or “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you…” We have never experienced, as our Syrian sisters and brothers have, persecution, torture, incarceration or being forced from our homes for solely being a Christian. More regretfully with state assistance the Christian Church throughout the centuries began persecuting non-Christians and eventually Christians who believed differently. Have any of us ever paid a price for following Jesus?
With legalization and imperial support we were given large public buildings called basilicas within which to carry out our liturgy.
And so for centuries we have come to equate the word “church” with a building rather than a people. And the bigger the building, the better, as Gothic spires reached for the skies. Due to these edicts we lost an essential part of who we are as followers of Jesus. How do we hear the question that Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit dwells in you? The “you” is plural! We gathered together are the dwelling place of God and that this gathering is holy. For too long we think God dwells in church buildings and Jesus resides in locked tabernacles. Experience the reactions from Catholics when a church or school is closed. We have lost an essential part of who we are. The Corinthians met in people’s homes, they had no church buildings or institutions. They heard Paul’s question very differently than us.
With legalization and imperial consent we stopped being counter-cultural, we stopped challenging the evil structures of society and often saddled up too close to dictators because we became part of the status quo.
Although the values of Christianity became and are the foundation of Western civilization and culture; Christianity, culture and patriotism are often equated as one and the same thing. We hear this in our politicians’ requisite “God bless America” at the end of speeches. But is this God that is referred to the God of Israel and of Jesus who considers the wise and powerful of any age as fools?
Emperors Constantine and Theodosius did Christianity no favours. They were the catalyst that caused the edgy Gospel message to be diluted and we have to ask at what price. The price of the soul of Christianity? There is an antidote to this history. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church of the 1st century opens for us in the 21st century much to contemplate.
- What does the word “church” mean for you? Do we experience our bodies, our lives, our relationships, our gatherings as the dwelling place of God? Do we experience this gathering of people as the vehicle for our holiness and we as occasions for other people to be holy?
- What is our priority as a Christian? Put another way, what does it mean to “belong to Christ”?
- Remember the Corinthian community was divided and made up of factions; are we any less divided? And if that be true, might it be because we’ve lost what it means to be the dwelling place of God as a community; particularly in a society that emphasizes individual autonomy over and often against the idea of community?
- If we are called to holiness through and with this gathering of people, how do we approach and treat each other? The Book of Leviticus and the Gospel today offer an array of images: revenge, offering no resistance to evil done against us, hatred, being a fool, loving our enemy, the holding of grudges, only greeting and dealing with people who agree with us, praying for those who attack us. Which combination of these describes us? Are we participating in being church or dividing church?
All of these questions are about what it means to be holy; to be the dwelling place of God. With the springtime call of Lent a brief 10 days away, might this be our spiritual agenda to reflect upon during the holy season?