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February 24, 2019: The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

First Reading 1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Gospel Luke 6:27-38

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Today’s Scripture passages consider one of the paradoxes about the church that Jesus founded: its rank and file members are both saints and sinners. The Church is indeed the Body of Christ, but that body’s members are weak human beings. In other words, while the Church is a divine institution, it’s also a human institution.

This is part of the mystery that Saint Paul stresses to the members of the Church in Corinth in today’s Second Reading. He is trying to make clear to them that the members of the Church are both saints and sinners. But in making this point, Saint Paul is careful to avoid the pitfall that is so easy to fall into spiritually: that is, to look at the members of the Church and to begin labeling them, saying that this person is a sinner, while that person is a saint.

It’s easy in our minds to divvy up the Church into these two groups: the saints on this side, and the sinners on that side. But if the Church is the Body of Christ, it cannot simply have all the sinners on one side and all the saints on the other, like some sort of person with a split personality. Instead, the truth is more complex. Each and every member of the Church’s Body—with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin Mary—is both a saint and a sinner. Every member of the Body of Christ has within himself or herself this pull between one’s desire to sin and one’s call to be holy.

St. Paul in the Second Reading is preaching the truth that, just as the Christian resembles the man from earth, so the Christian also is called to bear the likeness of the man from Heaven. We humans are by our fallen nature sinners, but by God’s call we are Christians, called to share in the life of God. Though this truth of the spiritual life is complex, we must constantly keep it in mind, not only in regard to others, but first of all in regard to ourselves.

Yet today’s First Reading seems to speak not about the rank and file members of the Church, but about those in authority. Those in authority within the Church are members of the Head of the Church’s Mystical Body. Here also, we have to realize that those in authority are sinners at the same time that they are called to be holy.

The person of faith, like David in the First Reading, understands that the holiness of a man’s office should inspire respect within us as long as that individual holds office. Just as David would not harm the head of his enemy Saul because Saul had been anointed by God to lead His people, so we must respect those who have authority over us, even when we find their personal actions lacking, if not sinful. The refusal of many people to bear such respect is, without a doubt, a clear reason for our society’s decay.

It’s important to remember, though, that this need for respect begins with the respect that children owe their parents. Unfortunately, just as we witness the institution of marriage being mocked in the media and in the lives of many members of our society, so also is the institution of parenthood mocked. Television shows that call themselves comedies portray parents as idiots and their children as the only persons with common sense.

Certainly there may be in our day a clearer and more open understanding that parents are human beings: that they make mistakes in what they try to do for their children. The parent who does not demand respect from his children in both language and action is doing a grave disservice to his children. Yet this respect grows more easily within the home where prayer and forgiveness are part and parcel of daily life.