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Epiphany 7 | Ordinary Time 7, Cycle A

In most of the texts appointed for this occasion, the People of God are acclaimed. Through the use of these texts, it will be our pleasure to acclaim the People of God with whom we live as we speak in our own situations what is revealed to us in the Word of God and in our lives.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
In Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 the message of the Lord for the congregation of the people of Israel, as expressed with the Hebrew language imperfect verb form, can best be translated as, “You are going to be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy!” The people will be holy because of their association with the Lord their God, who is by nature holy. To use Paul Tillich’s notable description of faith and the dynamics of the holy, in which whatever is our Ultimate Concern is holy for us, “You are going to be holy because you, my people, are my Ultimate Concern, and I, the Lord your God, am going to be holy because I, the Lord your God, am going to be your Ultimate Concern.” “You are going to be holy” is a prediction; it is a promise from the Lord. All of the statements that follow this in the Leviticus 19 Holiness Code can also be translated and understood as prediction and promise statements of the Lord, for example, “You are not going to bear a grudge…” “You are going to settle your differences…” “You are not going to take revenge… or to continue to hate…” and “You are going to love your neighbor…” rather than as imperatives (“Be holy… “Do not be…”) or as commands (“You must be…” or “You must not be…”) When the Lord God Almighty makes a statement, it is a prediction and it is a promise that it will be done; it is not merely an imperative and a command. No one among us, not even the President of the USA nor the Pope in Rome, has power such as this.

Psalm 119:33-40
The person who asks the Lord God for instruction and guidance with regard to how the person is to live and then diligently follows those instructions will have abundant life. Such a person is indeed to be acclaimed in every respect.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
The positive affirmation is continued in this text. Because Jesus Christ is your foundation, “You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” “You are God’s temple and God’s temple is holy.” You are God’s temple because you are God’s Ultimate Concern. If we are God’s Ultimate Concern, certainly God should be our Ultimate Concern!

Matthew 5:38-48
Since Matthew 5:48 is also expressed in an acclamation form, i.e., a Greek future indicative rather than as a hortatory imperative, it can also best be translated into English as a prediction and as a promise, in this instance, from Jesus Christ as our Lord. “You are going to be mature, fully developed, initiates into my community of faith, adults, and perfected, just as your Father in heaven is mature, fully developed, and perfected.” This translation, which conforms to the sense of the Greek future indicative much better than does the hortatory, “You must be perfect,” to which we have been accustomed, puts the climax of this Gospel reading for the day into a futuristic sense where, grammatically as well as theologically, it belongs. Our “being perfected” is a future action — like tomorrow, always future in this age for us. It is of great importance because it is a prediction and a promise made to us by our Lord. Furthermore, the future indicative construction is used in Matthew 5:48 with the Greek adjective teleioi, which as a descriptive adjective can be passive (“perfected”) implying God’s action on us, just as well as active or stative, something that we can or must do or be.

This translation, which puts the emphasis on prediction and promise, is supported by our growing awareness that the situation of Jesus’ ministry and message is fully charged with apocalyptic eschatology. We can recapture this sense of apocalyptic eschatology in the readings and in our message this coming weekend.

The other portions of Matthew 5:38-48 are illumined also by this awareness. Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ says to us in this text, “Because you are going to be perfected by God, you do not have to hate your enemies, i.e., your Roman oppressors, to refuse to help anyone who asks you anything. You can turn the other cheek and give away your garments, because you are in my care.”

How beautiful these statements of faith become when seen in this light! How well they correspond to the spirit of the great Beatitudes that begin this section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3! We lose much of this when we use translations such as the RSV for 5:48 (“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”) No one of us, in this life at least, can ever be perfect as God is perfect.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen