October 25, 2020
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
(Exodus 22:20-26; Matthew 22:34-40)
Our Epistle reading from the book of Exodus lays out, in part, how God expects us to love our neighbors as ourselves. In particular, God lifts up the needs of the refugee, widow, orphan, and the poor. It is as if hurting one of these beloved ones of God is hurting God Himself. The Book of Proverbs tells us in 14:31, “Those who oppress the poor revile their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.” God tells the people that if they harm another and “he cries out to Me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate (ESV).”
There’s a Texas saying, “When you boil the pot dry,” meant to refer to what’s left after all else goes away. It’s like getting to the gist of the matter, without superfluous details. “What’s the bottom line?” is another expression that captures the sentiment.
In Jesus’ day – when over 600 particular laws made up the totality of Mosaic Law, and a violation of one effectively meant a violation of the totality – the question posed to Jesus is seen as reasonable. In fact, in the context of the larger story, Jesus had bested the chief priests, elders, disciples of the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees; and now the Pharisees themselves are ready to take another turn. One of their number, a scholar of the law, becomes their mouthpiece. It is good to keep in mind that though the question seems perfectly legitimate on its face, the scholar was asking Jesus in order to test him.
The test doesn’t seem to bother Jesus, who responds by quoting Mosaic Law, first Deuteronomy 6:5 and later from Leviticus 19:18. It’s quite likely that Jesus Himself was the first to combine these two commandments. For Him, and for His disciples, these two commandments are the foundation of the law and the prophets. It’s what we have when we boil the pot dry. It’s the bottom line.
When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, He quickly responds with the second half of the Shema, the great Jewish prayer that begins “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) In saying that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole being, Jesus effectively answers the question posed to Him by the scholar of the law. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He adds a bonus answer, also saying what the second greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” By pairing together these two commandments from the Old Testament, Jesus reveals how we live out the first by doing the second. To love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul can be difficult to quantify or see, but in our actions of caring for our neighbor, God’s beloved sons and daughters, we show our devotion to God.
When we love God and love our neighbor, we are fulfilling the law. All of the law, the entirety of the more than 600 particular laws (613 to be exact), are summed up in these two. For us today, we might think of something similar if one were to ask which is the most important teaching in the catechism, or which is the most important precept of the church. Maybe a comparable question might be whether it is more important to tend to a sick relative or attend Mass? The answer sidesteps all these questions by saying the most important law is twofold; love God and love your neighbor. With these as our guiding light, all else comes into focus.
Getting to the crux of the matter can be an important exercise. Pruning away extraneous detail to reveal the core issue is essential in many cases. For Christians, we recall that Jesus’ teachings were rooted in Mosaic Law and the prophets. Yet He emphasized or combined aspects of each that made them seem to come alive, or to be read and understood in a new way. All of our actions ought to flow from this twofold love. Loving God and loving neighbor go together, and they cannot be reduced one to the other or one over the other.
We cannot say we love God and remain indifferent to the plight of those whom God loves. Love God and love neighbor. These two are intertwined in such a way that we cannot do one without the other. If we truly love God, we will be compelled to ease suffering wherever we find it. And when we reach out in compassion to those in need, we are serving God, even if we do not know it.
Do Catholic piety and social Justice go together? That is a question some devout Catholics actually have. However, in light of today's readings it seems the answer is quite obvious. Catholic piety without social Justice is neither Catholic nor pious. Devotion in prayer and acts of worship without concrete works of mercy is simply abstract and empty ritualism. The greatest commandment which we hear today in the Gospel combines both; one without the other negates both.
Recall also, that Luke's version of the same Gospel passage includes the parable of the good Samaritan as Jesus’ response to the scholar’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” With the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus also makes us see that, many times, those who seem to be religious officials, or who believe they fulfill the law, are incapable of loving. It was a Samaritan, considered a heretic by the Jews, who took care of the man.
Jesus gives us a mission statement in today's Gospel for how we are to live our lives as Christians. If we truly want to follow Him, we must love God with our whole being and love our neighbors ourselves. With these two commandments Jesus tells us how to evaluate and discern between the minutiae that make up the everyday life. In all things we can ask, by doing this would I be loving God and loving my neighbor? Just as the old motto went, “What Would Jesus Do?” that I still wear as a bracelet, is very apropos here.
As with all mission statements, if we simply post it on a wall but don't act on it, it won't make any difference in our lives. The sentiments of these two commandments sound appealing, but what does this really look like when it is lived out. To love God with our whole mind heart and soul requires more than a fleeting thought every now and then. We are called to make God our top priority and to put time and effort into this relationship. We come to know God through the reading of His Word, meeting Him in the Sacraments and listening to and talking to Him in prayer.
The second part of the commandment has sometimes been read “love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” This interpretation requires that we first love ourselves before we can extend this love to others. While it is true that we can't pass on what we don't have, it does not get to the crux of Jesus’ meaning. We are called to love our neighbor asanother self. This requires us to recognize that when our neighbor is suffering, we are suffering, and if we hurt a neighbor we are hurting our very selves. Jesus has laid out for us the path of the discipleship; now it's up to us to put His words into practice.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment for each of us is to love our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. We pray, that through prayer, good works and love of neighbor, we show our true love for our Heavenly Father. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all who at this time feel isolated , abandoned and separated from their loved ones. We pray also that fractured relationships be healed, that families be reconciled and that those in need be the receivers of Christian charity and good neighborliness. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those rejected by our society, that our eyes may be opened and that we understand that they are children of God and made in his likeness. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our parish, that it will be a place of welcome, where all will feel the warmth of God’s love and that this love be reflected in all our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that love of God and love of neighbor be the driving force of our community in combating the coronavirus pandemic. We pray to the Lord.
That those who feel unwelcome, or at odds with their church’s teachings, that they be guided to our humble parish where we welcome and embrace all seeking Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for wisdom as voters and for a safe and fair election. We ask that those who might try to unjustly and illegally change the outcome of the voting be removed. We pray for a huge turnout of voters who use wisdom in their decisions and to vote for the candidate that will best work for our country’s needs and will lessen political divisiveness and divisions. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
O God, you are worthy of all our praise and worship. Today we celebrate your love and our relationship with you through Jesus Christ. Thank you for expressing your love for us in so many ways. As we think of your love, we are reminded of your call to love those around us. Help us to discover that the more we give ourselves to you, the more we have left to give ourselves to others. Make us servants in your name.
Loving God, You surround us in a warm embrace, and in Your love teach us how to love others. In Your Spirit, we ask for guidance and remind us always of Your compassion for all humankind. Help us to keep our eyes and our lives focused on our perfect guide in Jesus Christ. Enable us to follow the teachings of Jesus above our own way and will. Help us, too, loving God, to work for growth in Your kingdom. Sometimes it is difficult to speak a word of hope and help to those in need. With the encouragement of Your Spirit, may we be faithful builders of your eternal kingdom. We ask all these things through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++