Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray.
The Liturgical Teaching on the Imago Dei
The foundational and immutable reason why humans ought to love themselves and each other is because they were created in the image and likeness of God; the human species is the Imago Dei, and according to today’s readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, because we are the Imago Dei is why we also called to holiness; that is, because God is holy and we are made in the image and likeness of God, we too have holiness within our capacity.
Today’s First Reading from Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 comes from a genre of post-exilic social laws communicated by Moses to the community of God’s People in-regard-to the Decalogue, or a boundary of laws that would have prevented them from breaking the Ten Commandments. This genre of social laws is largely found in Exodus 21 and 22, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 24, and are primarily concerned about how we are called to treat one another. The most unique and, arguably, most beautiful, thing about the Leviticus 19 commands is that they are prefaced in verses 1 and 2 with the reason why we are called to obey them, saying, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” This is incredible for God here to relate Himself to us in this way; informing us that because there is something about us that is like Him; we, therefore, have the capacity to be like Him. Truly, everyone who He created has His life breath within them, and when the immortal soul leaves the body, the body does not have life within it.1 Not only is this body of commands in Leviticus prefaced with an ear to the Imago Dei text from Genesis 2:26, but early and often it closes fifteen of its thirty-four commands with either the phrase, “I, the Lord, am your God” or “I am the Lord,” which is also used in 19:37 to close out this entire section of statues and decrees. These endnotes are a way of God as Father saying, ‘You can do this, because you are like me’ – ‘Yes, you can do the work of being holy, because I, your Father, am Holy, and I made you to be like me.’
According to Christ Jesus, Leviticus 19:17-18, “You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD,” together with Deuteronomy 6:5, “. . . and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” combine to make the Greatest Commandment and sum of the whole of the Law and the Prophets.2
In today’s Second Reading from First Corinthians 3:16-23, the Apostle Paul takes his turn at the Imago Dei, writing, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Indeed, this is a common theme in all of the Paulinian texts, where he reminds us that because we belong to Christ, rather than to the world, there is something different about us and we need to embrace that difference. In the instant case, “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” God has revealed Himself to us through His only begotten and beloved Son, Christ Jesus, and through His Church, the Holy Spirit is revealing more and more to us about God’s plan for salvation, but all of this is still what we call the Mystery of our Faith, because we do not even know what we know; our depth of knowledge about what has been revealed to us is so shallow that the word ‘shallow’ does not suffice to explain the complexity of our ignorance. Yet, this is why those who consider themselves wise in this world are always those who work day and night to destroy the Imago Dei on earth in everyway they can; from the Imago Dei in the womb to the Catholic Church itself; the Body of Christ with our Lord as its Head. Because they hate themselves, they hate the Image of God everywhere else they see it. This also applies to the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. Everyone who hates the Imago Dei, hates the liturgy, because that is the only place on earth where the image of God is rendered unto man made in the image of God, so that he might become his true supernatural self; holy as his Lord God is holy.
In today’s Gospel Reading, we continue hearing from Jesus Sermon on the Mount. For this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time it is taken from Matthew 5:38-48 where, “Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” I have heard people call this teaching of Jesus against being vengeful as a hard teaching, but the Lex Talionis is really quite a peculiar thing for people who believe in the Imago Dei to believe in anyway. I find the Lex Talionis to be difficult teaching; that I have to harm people who harmed me. Who wants that life? Yet, the Lex Talionis has been cited throughout the centuries by people as their justification inflict their revenge on others who were created with the same breath as them. I find that the Lex Talionis is beyond being what we would call being childish behavior, because even children have to be trained to be vengeful. To the contrary, the Lex Talionis nothing less than mere animal brain behavior. Harming others because they harmed you is just part of the animal kingdom code. It falls in line right behind the animal code to mark your territory by urinating along the perimeter of it. Jesus continues His refutation of the Lex Talionis, saying, “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This is not a difficult teaching at all. Moreover the Divine Symphony is repetitiously teaching us what our neighbor deserves; what justice they deserve; what their just due is; it is to be united with Him in whose image they were created, and the greatest sign of justice we have is when the priest celebrant elevates the consecrated Imago Dei above the altar. Although the wise of the world reject it, the Imago Dei, under the guise of bread and wine is our constant reminder that if dead bread and wine can be made holy, so too can we. All it takes on our part is to be obedient to God, and part of that obedience is becoming disposed to deserving the good for our neighbor, that same good we desire for ourselves. We had not always gotten that perfectly right as a People of God, because we have magisterially condoned vengeance in its various forms at times; whether it was unjust wars, discrimination, slavery, or capital punishment. It has been difficult for us to consistently see the Imago Dei in our neighbor. Ironically, at times has been easier for us to see the Imago Dei in consecrated bread and wine than it was to see it in the real presence of other human being. Being wise in the world has failed us, but the teaching of the liturgy remains consistent. While the world pursues death, what has been placed before us on the altar of sacrifice is life eternal. Let us desire life not only for ourselves, but also let us be foolish and stupid and desire that same thing for the least among us, and that is how we will be a Eucharistic People in the world.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.