THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Exodus 2:20-26Psalms 18:2-4, 47, 511 Thessalonians 1:5-10Matthew 22:34-40
With all of our attempts at loving, one would think more of us would be better at it. Why is it that we are not better at loving? Why do so many marriages fail, or devolve into abusive relationships? Perhaps, it can simply be blamed on the human condition. Perhaps the challenging part of loving can be found in what our Saviour does in today’s gospel, all as a result of what was surely meant to be a trick question.
Just previous to what is related in today’s gospel, the Sadducees (who don’t believe in a resurrection – that is why they were ‘sad-u-see’!) ask Jesus an almost impossible question about seven brothers who married the same woman leaving no children. The Sadducees want to know at the resurrection “whose wife will she be?” You will recall Jesus answered, “At the resurrection they neither marry or are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven… [God} is not the God of the dead but of the living.” This lead the Sadducees to “astonishment,” an astonishment the Pharisees refer to at the beginning of today’s gospel as “being silenced.”
The Pharisees want their turn at asking an embarrassing question, and they would like Jesus to distill all 613 precepts of the Law into oneprecept as the “greatest.” Jesus answers deftly and definitively by bringing together a passage from Deuteronomy and a passage from Leviticus: “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 the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” In just a few verses, Jesus will denounce the Scribes and Pharisees, and so it is unlikely that they were satisfied with Jesus’ answer. It is not the first time that Jesus speaks about love in the gospel of Matthew, but it is one of the most classic statements made shortly before His crucifixion in Jerusalem. Jesus also gives us the reason in these “two-but-one commandments” why loving is always going to be so hard and challenging.
I would contend that it is the ingenious connection by Jesus of two different passages from two different books in the First Testament into one great commandment that makes loving always challenging. Think about it. Even a modestly religious person could fully agree with loving God with all his heart, and soul, and mind. There are people we surely know, who proclaim to do that to the best of their ability, but who seem to fail on the second part of the equation, the one having to do with the “neighbor.” The way we know that we are completely honest about our profession of faith in God, is by how we treat our neighbor, and our neighbor doesn’t necessarily live right next door, our neighbor is all the sons and daughters of the same loving God we profess to worship.
We so often talked about how easy it is to profess our faith in Church, surrounded by ritual and nourished as we are with the body and blood of the Lord. But the real test of our faith doesn’t happen in church, it happens in the church parking lot, it happens later in the day at the grocery store, it happens later in the week when a very difficult person demands our respect. The two commandments spoken of by Jesus cannot be severed, for a love of God that does not manifest itself in a love for all our neighbors, will only manifest itself in empty rites and ritual actions, untethered to the actual world God made, a world God tends, and nourishes, and saves.
The Book of Exodus in our first reading reminds us that it is our memory of what God has done for us that compels us to treat our neighbor well: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” It is a recollection of the hard times spent in Egypt, a remembrance of oppression, and lengthy walks through the desert, that should cause a faithful Jew to be kind to others, especially others in need. When we are quick to make a decision regarding immigration policies, it is good to remember that so many of our ancestors were “aliens” or immigrants, and we have what we have today because they were welcomed and not threatened.
Furthermore, as Christians, John reminds us “that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into that world that we might be saved,” saved by the ultimate act of love, death on a cross. The thanks we feel for our salvation should manifest itself in a love for all God’s children, even those who are so different from us because of race, religion, politics, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and the like. Indeed, the “whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” – love of God and love of neighbor – and we shall be judged according to how well we manifested those two commandments, “with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.”