Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (February 20, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18; Ps. 119:33-40; I Cor. 3:10-23; Matt. 5:38-48
In a part of the world long known for its authoritarian governments, ordinary people are demanding that their voices be heard. This week demonstrators took to the streets across the region.
In Bahrain the military fired live ammunition at protesters, injuring dozens.
In Egypt, a week after President Mubarak stepped down, millions gathered to remember the 365 protesters who lost their lives and to be sure that the interim military government does not forget the protesters’ demands. The ruling military council, fearful about the economic impact of the ongoing protests, said it will begin to confront striking worker groups.
In Iran protesters took to the streets in large numbers for the first time since the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential elections. Meanwhile, Iran announced that it is sending two warships through the Suez Canal to Syria for a military training exercise.
From south to north in Iraq protesters gathered to express concerns about high unemployment, poor basic services and government corruption.
In Jordan, while high school students celebrated the results of their college entrance exams, a small group of pro-government supporters attacked protesters calling for economic and political changes.
In Libya at least 84 persons were killed in widespread clashes against the government of long-term leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
In the West Bank Palestinians rallied to call for a united Palestinian government. The Palestinian Authority (Fatah) currently runs the West Bank and Hamas runs the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, in a move seen as provocative in the region, the United States vetoed a resolution at the U.N. Security Council, which condemned Israel’s ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land.
Yemen observed a “Day of Fury” on Friday; at least five protesters were killed.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about the high calling that God expects for human beings.
In the Old Testament reading, Moses delivers God’s word to the people: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) Holiness calls us to love neighbor as self – doing no harm to our neighbors and actively seeking good for them, especially for the most vulnerable (vv. 9-18).
In the Epistle reading, Paul also tells the church at Corinth, that they are to be holy, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (I Cor. 3:17) As God’s temple, the church is built on the foundation of Christ (v.11) and God’s Spirit dwells in it (v.16).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus raises the bar. It is not enough to simply love our neighbors. We are also to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44) – not returning evil for evil (vv. 38-40), going the second mile (v.41), sharing with all who wish to borrow from us (v.42), and praying for those who persecute us (v.44). Just as God makes the “sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” so too, we are to be perfect (complete) as God in heaven is perfect (v.48).
Our high calling – to be holy and perfect – is rooted in God’s character and creation. God is holy and perfect. And humans are created in God’s image.
Across the region, the air is filled with anticipation as large crowds call upon rich and powerful leaders to show greater concern for the basic needs and rights of ordinary people. Our prayer is that the protests will remain largely nonviolent; and that political and religious leaders will recognize the image of God in the masses and fulfill their calling to act justly for all people.