31 Oct Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Shawn Hughes
October 29, 2017
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
Once more we see the crafty dance between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their attempt to entrap Jesus so that he would reach his breaking point; would say something that would justify their dragging him to his doom.
One of them, a lawyer, tests him: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” The malicious intent is clear already. “Teacher” It is strategic flattery and ironic contempt rolled into one. Only a disciple who considers himself above the teacher sets out to test him.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth …“You shall love…” clash dramatically with the contempt oozing from the lawyer’s heart.
HERE is the core of the gospel. The clash between true love and the demands it makes on us and anything less than it;…the clash between the divine way of being and the human way of being.
The lawyer expects an abstract answer. He receives a highly personal reply, custom-made for him…and us…and his now so obvious need for redemption. Jesus could have lashed out…as he did with the devil earlier in the gospel…You shall not put the Lord your God to the test quoting Deuteronomy. (6:16)…He could have…. But he doesn’t…He simply replies…“You shall love…” You shall love, rather than plot, deceive, ensnare, disdain, seek to destroy…You shall love. Imagine how taken aback the lawyer must have been at the obvious truth of Jesus’ reply. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus is quoting the great prayer from Deuteronomy 6, that every Jew, including the Sadducees and Pharisees standing before him, would pray at the beginning and end of every day. Jesus quotes it with the authority of one who wrote it. There is no difference whatsoever between himself and the text of the Law he proclaims. That is obvious to those who heard it.
Jesus could have said in reply to the lawyer’s question: “Why do you think evil in your heart?” (9:4). Instead, always God, always the redeeming Word he engulfs this lawyer and his Pharisee friends within the overflowing simplicity of God’s one and only desire for all men and women. With disarming divine innocence Jesus declares: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
The lawyer wants Jesus to summarize to one law the 613 laws the Pharisees taught you had to follow each day. Jesus’ response, ALL your love, All your soul, All your mind,…this response…unveils the joy to be attained in the freedom of making a total gift of one’s self to God. This rich answer of Jesus conveys the great intensity of the genuine religious life…the fact that a life of faith and devotion by nature engages and exhausts every single aspect of us: whether physical, spiritual, mental or psychological. God claims our whole being for himself. He delights in the utmost energizing of our being, precisely as a father delights in the fruition of his child’s talents. ALL. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind,…All…underscores the absolute primacy of the love we owe God
As we prayed in today’s psalm “I love you, O lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour.” (Psalm 18)
And the commandment is so personal. YOU shall love, with all YOUR heart, YOUR soul, YOUR mind. In a religious context, completely dominated by the imperative to perform endless exterior works of piety, charity, and ritual observance, Jesus focuses exclusively on love…on the quality of our hearts…as St. Paul would later so eloquently state “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…if I give away everything I own and I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 3). Only genuine love can move us closer to God’s Kingdom……. and if I don’t have it…I am worthless as a Christian. Christ-like love is the only new and unique thing a Christian can hope to bring into the world. Self-sacrificial love. Putting the other ahead of myself. At our creation, God placed this capacity to love within us. It is the core of what it means to be human.
The second commandment…Is like the first…The first and greatest commandment cannot stand alone. It is followed by: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”… In the widows, orphans, strangers, poor , homeless of the first reading we have just heard and in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus shows that my neighbour is any person who is in need. Thus we are to love, not by any subjective inclination, but by another’s need for my love. Jesus radically displaces my selfish interests, my ego, and makes the other, the centre of my existence.
But notice we are to love our neighbour, not as we love God – with all our heart, soul and mind — but rather, as we love ourselves. This means we will not deny our neighbour any good we want for ourselves OR inflict on him an evil we fear for ourselves. We will love God and only God with whole hearted adoration and total self-surrender and obedience, and we will love both ourselves and our neighbour as creatures bound to one another precisely by owing God everything.
The Second commandment is not the same as the first but it is “like it” because they both contain the imperative to love as the fundamental secret of what it means to be human and also because the ability to love one’s neighbour as oneself can only flow from the practice of the first commandment. No one can love himself or another fruitfully unless he first loves God absolutely. Human love must continually be nourished from the wellspring of uncreated, eternal love flowing from the Heart of God.
Said slightly differently…genuine love always implies a necessary triangulation. God. Neighbour. Me. And the closer my neighbour and I get to each other the closer we get to God.
As individuals , we can never fulfill our being’s deepest vocation to love by loving either only God, or only my neighbour or only myself. God loves us first. This love elicits a reciprocal love from me toward God. If this love of God is active within…it necessarily bears fruit in my love for my neighbour. St. John in his first letter, chapter 4, puts it perfectly: “We love, because God first loved us.” He goes on to say: “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:19-21)
Jesus drives home the truth that the genuineness of my love for God and my very capacity for receiving God’s love for me depend on my love for my neighbour.”
A document from Vatican II summarises it beautifully: “Man truly discovers himself by making a sincere gift of himself.” Gaudium et Spes #24. Similarly St. John Paul II used to define who we are as human beings as “a complete gift of the self to the other.” (Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity of Women, 1988). At the core of who we are as God has created us to be is self-sacrificial love: for God and for our neighbour.
All love must be Trinitarian: God. Neighbour. Me.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (5:23-24). We cannot perform an act of worship pleasing to God so long as we nurture animosity against a brother or sister.
Such animosity and the failure to recognize and respond to the beckoning divine Presence in my neighbour, the beckoning divine Presence in someone in need, impedes the circulation of love within the life-giving triangle between me, God and my neighbour…And the consequences are dire…In a couple of weeks we will hear Jesus in the final judgment declaring …“As you did not do it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did not do it to me…and as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters…You did it to me.”
We can only truly love God when we see Christ in those in need whom God has placed in our path and respond to that need with the self-sacrificial love which Jesus has modelled for us. Love of God and love of neighbour are inextricably bound together. If we follow the law, but don’t love, we’re wasting our time. If we love God, but hate our neighbors, we’re wasting our time. Why is this so necessary? Because of Jesus’ very own nature. Fully God. Fully Human. If we love Jesus we can’t just love his divinity. Nor can we only love his humanity. We must love Him in His totality. Fully God and Fully Human.
In today’s gospel, Jesus, the Word of God Himself, says that these two commandments stand at the heart of the Law. Love of God with all our heart, soul and mind. Love of neighbour as ourselves …on these two hang all the Law and the prophets
Gospel Mt 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“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.”
Reading 1 Ex 22:20-26
Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.
“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”