Proper 2, Year A   12 comments

Above: Sermon on the Mount

Everyone’s Vocation = To Grow Into One’s Full Spiritual Stature

The Sunday Closest to May 18



Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregations of the people of Israel and say to them:  You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip  your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien:  I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.  And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God:  I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.  You shall not revile  the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God:  I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great; with justice you shall judge your neighbor.  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor:  I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall not reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,

and I shall keep it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;

I shall keep it with all my heart.

35 Make me go in the path of your commandments,

for that is my desire.

36 Incline my heart to your decrees

and not to unjust gain.

37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;

give me life in your ways.

38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,

which you make to those who fear you.

39 Turn away the reproach which I dread,

because your judgments are good.

40 Behold, I long for your commandments;

in your righteousness preserve my life.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and some one else is building on it.  Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroy’s God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written,

He catches the wise in their craftiness,

and again,

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,

that they are futile.

So let no one boast about human leaders.  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 5:38-48 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to you everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The word “perfect” catches my attention immediately.  And I make the connection with Leviticus:  “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”  These two passages form the axis on which this devotional turns.

I being with “perfect.”  The Greek word here is teleios, which means to grow into one’s full stature, or to be fit for sacrifice.  So a perfect person, by this standard, fulfills his or her God-defined purpose.

Holiness/perfection is functional, not abstract.  Reread the verses in Matthew preceding the command to be perfect.  They contain precise instructions, including the following:

  1. Control your anger. (5:21-26)
  2. Control your lust.  (5:27-30)
  3. Care for your spouse, if you have one. More broadly speaking, do not expose anyone to economic risk needlessly.  (5:31-32)
  4. Do not play semantic games with oaths. (5:33-37)
  5. Do not take revenge.  (5:38-42)
  6. Love your neighbors and your enemies.  (5:43-47)

The list continues with material from the next chapter, but I leave that for you, O reader, to examine.

Meanwhile, Leviticus 19 is a catalog of Mosaic holiness.  We read part of it today, but the elements not quoted are perhaps more interesting.  There are laws also about shaving facial hair, consulting mediums and sorcerers, behaving properly around one’s elders, not sowing two kinds of seed in one field, not pushing one’s daughter into prostitution, et cetera.  My favorite, however, is this one from verses 33 and 34:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the LORD your God.

This is timeless and still provocative.

My proposed composite of today’s readings is thus:  The wisdom of God operates on a different level than does human wisdom.  Divine wisdom entails loving one’s enemies and choosing not to take revenge.  It means caring more for others, especially the poor, the marginalized, and the different, than for oneself.  The wisdom of God teaches honesty and integrity.  Divine wisdom says to treat others with respect.  To repeat a cliche, we cannot love God, whom we cannot see, unless we love people, whom we can see.  Whatever else God wants us to do, God commands us to do these things.  That is holiness.  That is the purpose for which God has created us, and therein we find our full spiritual stature.

Hear what God is saying to the Church and to all human societies.


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