30th Sunday in O.T.; October 29, 2017
EX 22:20-26 Ps 18 1 Thes 1:5c-10 Mt 22:34-40
Deacon Jim McFadden
Today’s Gospel reading reminds us in no uncertain terms that the whole of the Divine Law can be summed up in our love for God and neighbor. Matthew offers an account in which the Pharisees colluded to put Jesus to the test: of the 613 laws in the Torah, which of those is the greatest? Quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, Jesus referenced the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Dt 6:4). Jesus could have stopped there—I mean, who could argue with that? Yet, he adds something extraordinary that may not be readily apparent. He says, “And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). In this case Jesus did not invent the second commandment, but pulled it from the Book of Leviticus (19:18b). What’s so novel about this is that Jesus places these two commandments together—love for God and love of neighbor—revealing that they are in fact inseparable and complimentary. Simply put, you cannot love God without loving your neighbor and you really can’t love your neighbor without loving God. Prior to his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which offered a beautiful commentary on this topic.
Benedict was saying in effect that the visible sign that a Christian is in love with God is the concrete love he shows for his brothers and sisters. The Great Commandment to love God and neighbor is not at the top of the 613 commandments, but at the very center, because it is from the heart that is grounded in love that everything must go and to which everything must return and refer. Think about it: we are made in the image of God Who is Love; therefore, we are most human when we are in love and sharing that love with others.
In the first reading, the requirement to be holy, in the image of God who is holy, included the duty to care for the most vulnerable in our midst. The author specifically speaks of aliens, foreigners, orphans, and widows in the land. What this meant is that these people were very vulnerable and had a difficult time surviving, let alone flourishing. In most cultures of ancient times and, indeed, even today, foreigners were simply objects of contempt, often regarded being inferior.
Now, coming at the heart of the Old Testament, we have the astounding and revolutionary teaching to take care of the aliens, foreigners, and strangers, as well as orphans and widows.
Then we hear that we should have compassion for them. What is compassion? It is a fellow-feeling, to suffer with. We hear in Exodus that you were once aliens in the land of Egypt. Enter now into that space in which you were once a foreigner and stranger; you were once vulnerable. When you go to that space, you will stir up feelings of compassion for widows, orphans, and aliens—there is the biblical call.
To make the point even clearer, the author says that when the weak people are ignored, God becomes angry. When we hear that, don’t think of God as a petulant or disgruntled parent, but rather Someone who wants to set something right. It’s God’s passion to set right human relationships and, therefore, he has a compassion for the marginalized, which runs right through the biblical tradition to the time of Jesus, which then becomes part of the Church’s social justice tradition.
St. Ambrose of Milan who was influential in the conversion of St. Augustine, once said that if you have two coats in the closet, one belongs to you and the other belongs to the poor. This is the heart of our social teaching: the Church cares for the poor, the weak, and the marginalized. How fully are we responding to this great demand as a member of the Church? Do we have compassion for the aliens and foreigners in our midst?
Do we stand alongside Pope Francis who has spoken out on immigration issues since the beginning of this papacy? Shortly after being installed as the Bishop of Rome, he said, “Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others, recognize the values and resources the latter have to offer, and are open to sharing humanly and materially with the needy and disadvantage” (Message for the 2013 World Day of Migrants and Refugees; October 12, 2012).
Matthew 25 makes very clear that we have the duty to care for the most vulnerable in our society even if they are aliens and foreigners because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus brings this Covenant law to fulfillment. How so? He has united in His person, in his flesh, both divinity and humanity, a single mystery of Love.
Now, in the light of the Incarnation, love is the measure of our faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can no longer separate a religious life, a pious life, from concrete service to brothers and sisters—to the real people we encounter who are in need. We can no longer divide prayer, encountering God in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, from listening to the other, accompanying them on their journey, and especially tending to their wounds. Once again, love is the measure of our faith! How much do you love? How much do you serve the weak and vulnerable? How is your faith? We have faith as we love. And faith is the soul of love. Amen.