The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: Ex 22:20-26; Ps 103; 1 Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:33-40

Remember last Sunday’s Gospel passage? Sure you do. You remember…the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus by asking if it were right to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Their scheme, of course, failed because Jesus' only concern was God and God's Kingdom. He turned the tables on His accusers by saying, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Well, in today's passage the Pharisees once again tried to entrap Jesus. When they asked Him, “Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” they were far from sincere. Jewish scholars of the Law spent their lives pondering this question, and few agreed. Yes, the Pharisees hoped to demonstrate publicly that this upstart from Galilee was an ignorant country bumpkin. How could He hold His own against these experts in the Law? Jesus’ answer would only demonstrate his ignorance. 

Or so they thought. Once again Jesus surprises them by quoting two passages from Scripture, and in effect tells them that all God’s teachings are based on these two commandments. The first, from Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love your God with your whole heart, your whole mind and your whole soul.”

God wants it all. He wants us to turn every dimension of our lives and our being over to him. He wants our whole minds. He doesn't want us to think about Him only when we need Him and then forget about Him. He doesn't want us to fill our minds with powerful distractions that obscure or erase His presence. He doesn't want us to misuse our minds, filling them with evil thoughts of greed, jealousy, anger or lust.

"Give me your whole minds," Jesus says to us. "Are you distressed? Do you despair? Have your children or your parents hurt you? Remove the hatred from your minds and let my love take over. I’ll transform your thoughts and give you a new understanding. I’ll give you wisdom." 

Jesus also tells us to give God our hearts, our whole hearts. He tells us to love him with every part of ourselves, with every way there is to love. We are called to imitate God, to return the love He gives to us. But God’s love is total love, sacrificial love, the love we see on the Cross. Are we ready to love God sacrificially? Are we willing to give our hearts, our very lives for God, as so many others have?

And Jesus tells us to love God with our whole souls, our immortal souls, that which separates us from other creatures. We have the ability to think and to love. We have the ability to choose, to imagine, and to express ourselves. 

We are unique reflections of God – made in His image and likeness. And what is God’s image? What is His likeness? St. John tells us clearly: “God is love.” Our ability to see meaning in life, to recognize purpose to existence, is directly proportional to our willingness to reflect the presence, the love, of God. We each have a capacity to reflect God’s presence, our own unique way to bring His love into the world.

The other passage Jesus chose was from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is the second great commandment, Jesus tells us. 

If we love God as He calls us to love Him, we then must love ourselves; for we were created out of His love. If God loves each of us so much, then, of course, we should love ourselves.

I remember a story about a young mother who was trying to help her little boy understand this commandment. “God put us here to help others,” she told him. He thought for a moment and then asked, “What are the others here for?” The little lad would have made a good Pharisee.

God wants us to love Him by loving each other; and to love each other completely not just now and then.

He tells husbands to love Him by loving their wives, and wives to love Him by loving their husbands. Love, true love, is God's presence. The sacrament of marriage is the union of God's love to the love of husband and wife for each other. 

We cannot love God if we love only with a selfish love, a what’s-in-it-for-me love. We cannot claim that something is love, when we are in fact just using another person. We cannot love God if we nurture a hatred for another in our hearts. 

 “Love me,” the Lord says, “by loving your neighbors, your spouse, your children, your parents, your relatives, your colleagues at work, the kid who mows your lawn …everyone.” 

You see, Jesus’ definition of neighbor differs from that of the Pharisees, who applied this commandment only to other Jews. Jesus changes this. Recall the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which He expands neighbor to include strangers, even our enemies. And this, brothers and sisters, ain’t easy. 

But even more shocking to those who resisted His teaching, Jesus goes on to include sinners and all kinds of other folks. He includes the prisoner, the criminal, the drug addict, the prostitute. He includes the homeless, the panhandlers. He includes the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill. He includes those we haven’t met and those we don’t know. He includes people from the farthest corners of the globe, people from our inner cities, people whose cultures and ways of life are alien to us. 

Among our neighbors are the unborn infant, the lonely and forgotten one in the nursing home, the convict on death row, the terrorist. He includes not only those who are hard to love but those it’s easy to ignore or forget.

Do you remember a dozen years ago when the Washington DC area was plagued by the pair of snipers who were shooting people indiscriminately? Well, one of the later victims was seriously wounded as he and his wife left a Virginia restaurant. His wife refused to be interviewed by the media, and instead asked a hospital representative to read a statement. In it, she thanked those who were praying for her husband, and asked for their continued prayers not only for him but for the person who shot him. She didn’t scream for vengeance…she didn’t cry out for revenge…she didn’t plead for closure. No, she asked only for prayers.

Our Christianity obliges us to reach out to others, to the poor, the sick, the defenseless…and even those the world expects and encourages us to hate. But Christian charity isn’t motivated by humanitarianism. It’s motivated by love, by a desire to do God’s will, a desire to be Christ-like.

Quite simply it’s the work of evangelization. People who are starving first need food before they can hear God’s Word or praise His Name. Those who are ill need to experience God's mercy and compassion in others if they are to make sense of their sickness. Those locked in a prison cell, who’ve never known love, never heard a kind word, need to experience another’s love for them before they can accept the perfect love of God.

And let’s not forget, as we approach Election Day, that we can give to Caesar only what is his. And one thing that is not his is God’s gift of life. Life, brothers and sisters, belongs to God, and to God alone. No government has the right to take innocent life, to support such inherently evil acts as abortion, infanticide, and assisted suicide. As true disciples we must resist these evils…just as we should resist capital punishment which so often hinders a person’s redemption.

Every good law, every law that makes any sense, is implied in the Lord's simple answer to the Pharisees: “Love God with your whole mind, your whole heart and your whole soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

As we celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus, as Jesus re-presents on this altar His eternal act of love for us on the cross, let’s each take a moment to ask God for the courage to be the people he has called us to be, people who return all they have and are to God – people of his Kingdom. 

Jesus wants you, all of you! He wants it all!

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