28 and 29 October 2017 Thirtieth Sunday Ordinary Time A Homily
First Thessalonians 1:5-10
My sisters and brothers in Christ.
The scriptures today address a very important issue in the “final” instructions, commands. Jesús, you might say, is giving his final “to do list”, to his followers.
While the Gospel describes Jesús’ answer to a question posed by the Pharisees, Jesús is obviously speaking to the “believers” in the Christ. That is he is speaking to us.
Jesús is asked by the “strict observers” of the law the following question:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesús has challenged the teaching and integrity of the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel and the Pharisees seek to trap Jesús so they can have him killed. Today’s vignette does not have the “scent” of conspiracy that has come to characterize the final exchanges between the Pharisees and Jesus.
There are six hundred and eleven “commandments” in the “Law”. Teachers, rabbis and scribes enjoyed discerning which commandment was the most important.
Asking Jesús a question is not a matter of getting “the usual” answer. Jesús today, again gives an answer that reveals a new “take” or “interpretation” of the “Law”.
Jesús knows the correct answer:
“You shall love your God,
With all your heart,
With all your soul,
And with all your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.”
That was the answer the Pharisees were prepared to hear and affirm.
Jesús however adds:
“The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Jewish students of the Law believed that there were among the six hundred and eleven commandments ones with “heavy” obligations and ones with “lighter” obligations.
“Love of God” was a commandment that had a “heavy” obligation for believers.
Jesús has put “Love of neighbor” as the second “heaviest” commandment to be followed by believers.
Jesús has gives us today something to ponder.
We know the answer from Luke’s Gospel about a Samaritan who demonstrates who our “neighbor” is.
We know from the Book of Exodus today who the LORD means to protect:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien (immigrant, refugee)..…
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan…
If you loan money…..you shall not act as an extortioner….
If they cry out to me, I will hear them; for I am compassionate.”
The Lord’s punishment, in Old Testament style, to those who harm his special children is swift death by the sword.
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” means our love and loyalty is not first to my
to my “tribe”.
The “common good” in our society requires us to think beyond our own special family, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, national group.
We are not asked today to be compassionate exclusively to our family, friends and the people who are most like us.
While “compassion” may not be found in every person or family it can be defined as “normal”, “common” and even “expected behavior”.
The Gospel mandate for us is to see beyond our closest circle of family and friends. Our “tribe” is not the only group we need to consider and care for or about.
The word “catholic” with a small “c” means universal. When we say the Creed after hearing God’s word we affirm that we believe in God.
Affirming the “Creed” means we have an obligation and a need to go beyond the accepted divisions and too common negative judgments about other persons or groups of persons that is so constant today that it has come be considered “normal”.
Pope Francis gave a very moving example of his desire to not attend only to the Roman Catholic family when he went to Malo, Sweden a year ago and shared a special unity service with the Lutheran World Federation president, Bishop Munib Younan.
Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan celebrated/ remembered the Five Hundred Year anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation begun by Augustinian Father Martin Luther.
Exclusion, condemnation and rejection of others does not demonstrate our commitment to love of neighbor which reflects so clearly our love of God.
Pope Francis is the best kind of teacher.
Pope Francis is a master at reaching out to people who are different, vulnerable and at times even difficult.
May we model our obedience to the second most important commandment:
“Love your neighbor as yourself”
after Francis’ constant and authentic example.