Today’s readings: Leviticus 19, 1-2.17-18; 1 Cor. 3, 16-23; Matt. 5, 35-48.

The debate under way these days on justice versus mercy and compassion versus order reveals a deeper schism within the Church on the very nature of the Christian community itself. Is the role of the Church in the world to teach what is right and what is wrong? Is the function of the Church in the lives of people to keep order? Or is it instead a calling to be a healing community?

There is a logic that the world follows and a way of reasoning that seems to be innate to our human nature. Jesus in the gospels is following a logic that is radically different. It took the Church too long before we came to realise that our teaching on capital punishment, on private property, and so-called just war, to mention a few examples, was completely wrong and more rooted in Roman law than in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis is right in his The Joy of the Gospel to prioritise the conversion of the Church in its entirety before speaking of a Church called to evangelise. The Church’s calling in the world is not to preach forgiveness, justice, compassion, even love of enemies, but to be the sacred space where all this becomes possible and visible. The gospel’s emphasis is not on what we should do as Christians but on what we are called to be.

There is too much hurt and hatred in the world we live in and the remedy is surely not to be found in setting the boundaries of vengeance. This only leads to a spiral of violence, as is evident both on the global level and on the level of our personal network of relationships. Strangely enough, and against all our common perceptions, this is already made clear in the Old Testament as we read today from Leviticus. The measure there is already the Lord’s holiness.

Jesus revokes the old law and mentality and sets new standards for his discipleship community. He radically parts company from his own tradition which, as we find elsewhere in the Old Testament, many a time promoted extreme tribal policies of violence and extermination of the enemy. Jesus’s measure of true love is “giving one’s life for others” and unconditional forgiveness.

As we know, no matter what, he stuck to it to the very end, risking the appearance of a failed messiah. In the world, this is the same risk we all face constantly. Yet this is the measure of what we call Christian prophecy. At the same time, may we all acknowledge that we are psychologically and socially conditioned and that we need to fight these very conditionings if we really want the desired society to happen.

Charles Taylor, one of the most influential philosophers in the English-speaking world, sets out his idea of the social imaginary, a broad understanding of the way a given people imagine their collective social life. It is important that we dream and imagine how our collective social life should be in order to suit better our humanness.

This is what Jesus is dreaming and imagining of his community of disciples. Setting ideals that go beyond complacency is what we need mostly in the context of the onslaught we daily face from the social media, from a tribal form of politics, and from other forces, internal and external, that seem to know no limits to revenge and violence.

In his book Signs of the Times, Jean Vanier writes: “The values extolled by our wealthy modern societies often damage inner freedom and personal conscience. We live in what could be called a tyranny of normality. Of course, norms and laws are necessary to provide human beings with a strong inner structure. But in our times, cultural normalisation based solely on success and power prevents us from becoming truly ourselves, with our strengths and weaknesses, and from developing what is at our heart”.

The Scriptures today are proposing how we can live wisely and serenely and how to make the ideals we deeply believe in and desire feasible. It is the inner strength that we need to make change happen.

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