7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I've always loved that silly little quote by Charles Bowen:
"The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella."
It's a short, sharp and humorous way of pointing out those words of Jesus in Mt 5, that God's love and forgiveness, the rain and sun of life if you like, is extended to all, both good and bad alike. Trying to be good isn't easy and in certain circumstances can seem to cause us more trouble than anything else, in it is often those who have an elastic conscience who get the best things. Yet, Jesus reminds us that our human way of looking at things isn't God's way; Paul calls the wisdom of the world 'foolishness in the eyes of God'.
But what does this all mean for us as we live out our Christian lives in an uncertain world ? Jesus' portrait of God as ever merciful and loving makes a lot of demands on each of us. He challenges us in a constructive way to go beyond the commandments and take the brave step of trying to reach the perfection of God, the writer of Leviticus places before us our religious vocation, the call to be Holy as God is holy (Lv 19.2)
This leads not to pious platitudes or rigorous adherence to the observance of laws, but something over and beyond. We are called not to have hatred for one another in our heart, not to seek revenge or bear grudges and how difficult all that is, but how necessary as part of our way to holiness and wholeness. Yes we are to love our neighbour as ourselves but must travel further on the road of neighbourliness. That is what the umbrella poem hints at to see the unjust person, my enemy, as also my neighbour and to love and pray for them, that means giving my 'umbrella' (my forgiveness and love) to them in time of their need!
This overpowering picture of a merciful God, contrasts with our own feeble attempts to portray God in our own image, for with the best intentions we can lay great burdens on others, believing we are doing God's will. Yet Paul writing to the Corinthians and Jesus in his teaching about enemies and being perfect demolishes that kind of religious certainty, what we are called to do is respect each other as 'living temples' of the Holy Spirit, people who are trying to be holy!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for the Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Oxford