30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings deal with the true spirit of Jewish law, the law that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill. In today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus we see that the commandments of the law required aid and support of the weak and powerless.
Aliens or people displaced from their homeland are deserving of protection. The Lord reminds his people that they themselves were once aliens. Widows and orphans were also vulnerable in a society where a father or husband was the sole means of support and protection for women and children. The Lord reminds his people that their wives and children could also be left out in the cold. The Lord also commands his people to help their needy neighbors, and not drive them further into poverty and misery.
In the past few weeks we have been going through chapter 22 of the gospel of Matthew, a chapter that describes the increasing tension between Jesus and the various Jewish leaders. Initially, Jesus had been critical of them for their failure to be faithful to the true spirit of Jewish law.
In return they resorted to plotting against Jesus by trying to get him to say something that will either get him into trouble with the Roman authorities, or cause the Jewish populace to turn against him. Although they couldn’t stand each other, each faction takes their own shot at Jesus. Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees all try to trip him up.
In today’s gospel passage they ask him “which commandment in the law is he greatest?” Jesus knew that scholars had counted over six hundred commandments in the Law but, as usual, he chose to simplify and get right to the true spirit of the Law.
You shall love the Lord, your God,
With all your heart,
With all your soul,
And with all your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In his reply Jesus combines two verses from the Hebrew Scriptures, the first from Deuteronomy 6:5, and the second from Leviticus 19: 18ff. He combines them because his whole life and mission was to show that the love of God and the love of neighbor went hand in hand. One is not possible without the other.
Moreover, in his teaching Jesus also extended the very meaning of neighbor. We recall that in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, he asked, “who was neighbor to the man”? In our Lord’s time, just as in the days of the Exodus, neighbor had a very narrow meaning. Every people, every city, every tribe, every family was at odds with one another. We see in the gospels that not only would the Jews have nothing to do with strangers, but also that they were constantly bickering among themselves.
Of course, the Jewish people were surrounded by people who behaved even worse. Today, despite the words of our Lord, things do not seem to be much better. In places like Syria and Iraq it seems like only a brutal dictatorship can keep people from cutting each other’s throats. It is hard for us to imagine the animosity among the different factions in that world.
It is also hard for us to imagine how people could believe that they are serving God by brutally beheading alien captives, raping their wives, and selling their orphaned children into slavery. Have we made any progress from the time of the Exodus?
Sadly, it is the followers of Jesus who are enduring the greatest persecution. In fact, the persecution of Christians throughout the world today is far greater than at any time in the past. These people are being dispossessed from their homes, tortured, and even murdered for their belief in Christ. They are the true heirs of the Thessalonians that St. Paul praises in today’s second reading. They are the “imitators of the Lord,” and “a model for all believers.”
To love someone means to be willing to give all for him or her. After all, what can we really give to God who has given us everything? Jesus has shown us that the way to love God is through the love of our neighbor. All that we do for those entrusted to our care and protection, we do for Him. We may not have to suffer the cruel martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, but we are still called to give our lives in the service of others.
Reading 1. Exodus: 22: 20-26
Reading II. 1 Thessalonians 1: 5c-10
Gospel. Matthew 22: 34-40 (Love Your Neighbor)