Ex 22:20-26, 1Thes 1:5-10, Mt. 22:34-40
1. I hope you’re not, tuning out as irrelevant, the Political-Religious Turmoil that is taking place (Pause), …in our Sunday READINGS over the last 4 weeks, punctuated in chapters 20-22 of Matthew’s Gospel. We are apprised of the SWIRLING debate and growing controversy surrounding Jesus. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Elders, Scribes, and even the Roman Herodians; all have been questioning Jesus’ claim to having a Divine Mission and teaching Authority. In the end, the hard hitting CONFRONTATIONS, ACCUSATIONS, JUDGEMENTS and teachings; is what ultimately leads to Jesus’ Crucifixion.
There is another notable POINT of Scripture coming through. At every event, in the face of heavy debate and opposition to the Revelation of His plan, God remains true, faithful and steadfast. For us, God has always provided someone TO IMITATE those virtues, TO LEAD others though the troubled times. The Patriarchs, the Prophets, Jesus and Paul: people like them, to CALL others to conversion. People to SPEAK the truth despite opposition. People who won’t BACK DOWN to heavy handed tactics. We live in ‘ONE DAY’, so the TURMOIL, the ongoing DEBATE and the STRONG WITNESS to truth is a part of even our time under the sun.
The ‘Issues of Contention’ are many and none FADE away. Today, we wrestle with the GREAT Gospel and Societal question of IDENTIFYING our NEIGHBOR. Debating over what should be our response toward their needs.
2. The Book of Exodus contains the BINDING LAW on the Israelites. And the Law speaks of the LOVING relationship DEMANDED by God, that His people should have towards the stranger and the disadvantaged The Mosaic Laws commanded individuals and communities to be WARM and HELPFUL to those who are less fortunate. Reminding them, they too, were once ‘Less Fortunate’ and ‘Aliens’ while living in Egypt.
The STRANGERS were the aliens (or immigrants), who were forced to leave their homes because of circumstances such as wars, plagues or famines. In our reading today, the Israelite men were to lead in the loving obligation to take care of the DISADVANTAGED; the WIDOWS and ORPHANS. The more fortunate Israelites were reminded to IMITATE Gods’ Care. If the widows and orphans were neglected or abused and their cries reached out to Heaven, God would hear them and His anger would punish the aggressors. Their families would suffer the same consequences, THEIR WIVES becoming widows, THEIR CHILDREN becoming Orphans.
3. In his First letter to the Thessalonians, Paul reminded them how his living example among them, was for their sake so that they may grow in Christ. Paul’s example was the Lord’s example. And he encouraged them to …”Be IMITATORS of me as I am of Christ.”
Paul was glowing in how his example to the Thessaloniki’s, became the example they showed to the Macedonians and Achaians . The love of Christ shined through them, so Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to continue to be IMITATORS. He praises them for their DYNAMIC FAITH, that is belief expressed in their daily spiritual practices. Then he praises them in how this belief played out in their LOVING ACTIONS, often in actions that where difficult. And lastly he praises them for STEADY HOPE; the patient expectation of the 2nd coming of the Lord despite the tribulations of that age.
4. In our Gospel, the swirl of confrontation, is not just with Jesus. Obvious is the confrontation between the Pharisee and Sadducees as well. The Pharisees were happy Jesus had shut them down in last weeks Gospel. So today the Pharisees were ready to present themselves well. They sent a LEARNED man of the Law to ask Jesus, “Teacher, what commandment in the law is the GREATEST?” Debate was common among the Learned, over which Mosaic laws were the MOST BINDING upon the people. Debate like: whether or not, Offerings and Animal Sacrifice to God were more binding than Honoring Parents? Or how do we show Love to God, family and Neighbor?
Jesus today combined his answer using 2 scripture sources. The 1st “great commandment of charity”, about ‘Loving God’ from Deuteronomy and the 2nd about ‘Loving Neighbor’ from Leviticus. By putting His answer in paradoxical terms, He sets both up for Continual debate. Yet he also recognized both as GREAT…making action BINDING on both.
5. The debates of scripture are in many cases, the same issues we have today. The GREAT scripture issue of Care for our Neighbors, Strangers and Disadvantaged is always with us. And too, we must realize there are other GREAT Issues today where TRUTH and ACTION, is BINDING on us all. Debate is good, it will allow us to hear the TRUTH, forming for the Better our conscience; that DEMANDS that we live according to it. Therefore we must include in our Debate of today, the GREAT issues of Right to Life, Family Life, Euthanasia, Marriage and Religious Freedom. Don’t tell me there is no need for debate.
Importantly, we must IMITATE Jesus in debate and we must IMITATE Him in Gospel Action as well. When we (Church and Laity) IMITATE Jesus, the truth is heard, CARE is given to the benefit of others. It is the BINDING/LOVING ACTION on an issue that we take, that God hears and sees and will reward. Now you have just heard the word of God and shortly will receive Jesus in the Eucharist. You are keeping the first Binding commandment of loving God. Now after Mass, GO…GO and do the BINDING thing for your neighbor!