Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Hine ma tov is the title of a song popular among Israelis. Years ago, while in studies, I spent a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The program was a joint effort of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and Hebrew University. The program was established in the 1960’s to help promote joint scholarship as well as better understanding between Jews and Christians.

Part of the program was developing a religious and cultural understanding of Israeli life. One day a week we participated in a course or field trip to this end. The professor was a native Israeli and a Rabbi. Rather than meeting at the University for the course, we would start at home. The first day he gathered us in a room. Then he immediately started to sing Hine ma tov. It was a simple tune and repetitive words. After a few minutes he had the whole class singing. That’s how we began each class. Then every other week or so he would introduce the same song but with a different tune; we would learn that then another. When we were on buses or traveling to different sights for field trips, singing Hine ma tov became a regular part of the journey.

The lyrics to the song are Psalm 133. The common title is the first three words in Hebrew. The first line of that psalm reads: “How sweet it is when brothers live in unity.” The psalm at one in the same time invokes a blessing or prayer for unity among the people Israel and those living with them and a prayer of praise acknowledging the blessings of unity. The psalm uses poetic images to capture this blessing.

The first is: “like fine oil on the head, running down upon the beard; upon the beard of Aaron, upon the colar of his robe.” This image alludes to the anointing rite for the High Priest.

The second is: “like dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the Lord has decreed a blessing, life for evermore.”

This image may be more accessible today. In the arid climate in many parts of the Holy Land, morning dew coming down from snow-capped Mount Hermon was essential moisture for growing crops – in other words, life giving.

The importance of unity and its value is reflected in the Psalm and folk tune. The quest for and desire for unity is likewise carried over into our Christian life. Jesus comes to establish the unity of all peoples and nations, Jew and Gentile alike. We see this throughout the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is not limited to time, space, particular nation or race. All are invited. The unity is expressed in peace. You may recall in the account of the first resurrection appearance, to the diciples in the locked room, Jesus first words are: “Peace be with you.”

In today’s gospel account we continue hearing from the Sermon on the Mount. The particular passage is a continuation of the section scholars call the “antitheses.” (Where Jesus says: “You have heard it said…” quoting a commandment of the law then follows with an interpretation or a teaching intended to help the hearer internalize the law which He introduces with “But I say to you….”) When we look at these teachings as a group, we can see that the theme of unity or peace is concretized in relationships with each other. Particularly evident in today’s two teachings is the call for mercy and forgiveness for these restore unity and establish peace.

“An eye for an eye” will not restore the relationships that have been broken but mercy will. This mercy is rooted in the covenant. The first reading, from Leviticus, gives one such example: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

The responsorial psalm elicits the remembrance of God’s mercy toward his people. This theme runs throughout the Scriptures. Psalm 103 praises God for His mercy. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills…Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us… As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

Jesus comes among us for healing. He comes to restore humanity with God and each other. He does this in his own life of mercy. We remember that in a very concrete and real way whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, the celebration of His passion, death and resurrection. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us very real and concrete examples of how to internalize the law of love and mercy; to live our lives as people in communion with God and each other. Today he teaches us how to heal any relationships that have been damaged or broken.

Jesus calls us to heal as our heavenly Father heals, as He himself heals, by being merciful – for “how sweet it is when brothers live in unity.”