(Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)
In the diocese in the Philippines where I came from, there was a priest whose full name is Perfecto del Mundo. He was called Father Pekto for short. Many times we would joke about him or tell him that he is the only perfect man in the world, which is what his full name literally means. Unfortunately, Fr. Pekto left the priesthood. One priest quipped after Fr. Pekto left the ministry, “Being the perfect man in the world was too much for him to handle.”
In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These words of Jesus echo what the Lord says to Moses in today’s first reading, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” When we, the disciples of Jesus, are asked to be perfect and holy just as God is perfect and holy, it seems that this is a routine admonition to all of us. Until Jesus spells out what are required to be perfect and holy. And then we say the demands are unrealistic or impossible to do because Jesus is asking us to offer no resistance to one who does us harm, to not only give our extra clothing but the very clothes that we wear, to go over our obligation by doing the extra mile, to give without conditions and to love our enemies.
Loving one’s enemies could be the deal breaker in the demand for the disciples of Jesus to be perfect. Most people say that they don’t make or create enemies and yet some people do them harm. In response to those who harm us Jesus tells us, his disciples, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” When someone punches us, our natural reaction is to strike back or to get even. As they say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” When Jesus tells his disciples not retaliate, is he asking his followers to become like doormats? Doormats are meant to be stepped on and so becoming like a doormat is not only painful but humiliating as well. It appears that this is what Jesus is asking his disciples to be, to be stepped on and be abused by others. I believe that is not so.
I know that this is something that is very difficult for me to share. In 1999 my only sister, our second to the youngest, was stabbed. She was at the wrong place and at the wrong time. She was a victim of a teenage gang that was looking out for someone to stab as part of the gang’s initiation rites. My sister bled to death at the hospital. She was already a widow when she died and left four young orphans, two girls and two boys. She was 39 years old. To make the story short, I went home to the Philippines and together with my other siblings met with the police investigators. But before that meeting we had a chance to talk to one of the suspects who was being detained at that point. We asked him what happened and why and that’s how we came to know that it was a part of the gang’s initiation and that according to him it was the leader of the gang who stabbed my sister. The detainee told us that their leader has already fled. We also asked him about his background and we came to know that this gang of teen-agers was mostly composed of street children, with no home or family to call their own. In a way that explained to us why they would do something like that. During our meeting with the investigators, one of the police officers told us that these teens are the scum of the earth and that nobody would care if one of them disappears. Even without saying it he was giving us a hint that a summary execution of the suspect could be staged if we want justice right away. My siblings and I strongly expressed to the authorities that due process should be observed in pursuing justice for our sister. The leader of the gang was never apprehended and the detained suspect was eventually released because we were not able to make a follow up on the case. The case was eventually closed. However, had the case prospered and there was a criminal trial, my family and I would not have considered asking for capital punishment. Death penalty was certainly out of the question. It was a painful and traumatic event and had a terrible impact on my parents especially on my father. His health deteriorated after that. What I remember most was how we coped with the tragedy. We were certainly angry at what happened. I was also blaming the hospital for negligence because my sister had a cardiac arrest due to loss of blood. However, I didn’t recall harboring hatred or exacting revenge on the perpetrators of that senseless crime. On hindsight, my family and I could not have reacted that way without help from above.
My family is not perfect even if we have forgiven those who killed my sister. The way to perfection is like being on a pilgrimage and while we are here on earth we are all pilgrims. As we journey in our pilgrimage it would help that we think in terms of how our heavenly Father treats us: God’s blessings are given to all because God gives the sun and rain to the just and the unjust. The measure of how much we love and forgive is how much God loves and forgives us and that is without limit. Jesus, as one like us in flesh and blood, has shown us the way to the Father, to perfection. It’s a very difficult challenge. However, keep in mind that we are blessed and that we are the temple of God’s Spirit. We get all the help that we need in our pursuit of holiness and perfection.