•Exodus 22: 20-26 • 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 • Matthew 22: 34-40•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Lectionary we currently use in liturgy is far superior to the Pre-Vatican II edition. Yet those who compiled this Lectionary did us a great disservice when the continuous reading of the text is interrupted. Today’s gospel illustrates what I mean.
Our text last Sunday told us people from the court of Herod and disciples of the Pharisees were sent to Jesus with a question about paying taxes. You know how Jesus responded. Matthew then continues telling us “the same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question.” Our current Lectionary simply omits all of that and jumps to the text proclaimed here today. “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.”
When religions lose track of essentials, they easily fall into pious mediocrity or moral hair-splitting. They are then unable to promote a healthy relationship with God and seriously diminish people’s spirituality. That was the Jewish religion in which Jesus lived. There were 613 commandments that had to be obeyed in order to be in full compliance with the Law. This complex web of precepts and prohibitions was a burden for ordinary folks. In the Catholic Church today we are struggling to free ourselves of legalities that burden us. The current bishop of Rome awakens hope among us as he joins us in that struggle.
When the Pharisee asked Jesus a question, he didn’t have to think twice.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Like all pious Jews, Jesus prayed those words daily. They helped him be centered in God.
Then he added something that no one asked him. “Your shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That is to say, “love of neighbor equals love of self.” That is to say, love of neighbor equals love of self.
We are very familiar with all of these words. So our task is to wrestle with them until we find out what and how they apply to us and the way we live in this 21st century, consumerist and militaristic society.
Jesus is clear and precise. Love is everything. Love is the one thing asked of us in life. There is nothing more important than loving God and loving neighbor. The reason is simple. God is love.
The love of which Jesus speaks is not emotional or sentimental. “Love of God” means acknowledging the Ultimate Mystery of life. It means living in accordance with the will of God as best as we can know it. “Love of neighbor” means seeking the good of the other in the same way we seek our own good.
Now how can we consistently love both God and neighbor? I recommend one initial step. Make a vow, take a vow, promise yourself: “in all circumstances I will be a person of non-violence.” Jesus is our model. That was his way of living and acting in history. With such a vow you will commit yourself to speak out firmly and publicly on behalf of love. You will work for the reform of our prisons, the release of non-violent prisoners, the end of solitary confinement and the abolition of capital punishment. You will lobby to redirect military spending into social services that reduce poverty, homelessness and ignorance. By committing yourself to be a non-violent person you will grow in love and become more fully human. You will do far more good for others than you ever dreamed possible. Promise yourself: “in all circumstances I will be a person of non-violence.”
As our Lectionary is now structured we will hear only two more readings from the gospel of Matthew. Throughout this year we have heard about the fire burning in the soul of Jesus of Nazareth. That passion, that fire was his commitment to “the reign of God.” He knew a fully human life is possible only when human beings are able to live with dignity. Love and non-violent resistance of evil are the basic fountains from which “the reign of God” is emerging.