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Features \ Asia - Liturgical Reflections

XXX Sunday - Oct 29, 2017

XXX Sunday - RV

XXX Sunday - RV

24/10/2017 15:15

Ex 22:20-26; I Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40  

Anecdote:  Love them anyway: In Calcutta, India, there is a children’s home named Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), founded by Mother Teresa.  The home continues to be operated by her community, the Missionaries of Charity.  On the wall of the home hangs a sign which reads:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,

Mother Teresa counsels her young charges that the challenges offered by this sign can be met only if human beings are motivated by a love and a respect for one another which looks beyond faults, differences, ulterior motives, success and failure.  Mother Teresa once said of herself, “By blood and origin, I am all Albanian.  My citizenship is Indian.  I am a Catholic nun.  As to my calling, I belong to the whole world.  As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”  (A Simple Path, Ballantine Books, New York: 1995).  It is this relationship of belonging and the loving service which grows out of that belonging which the Scriptural authors called Covenant. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez)

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is the greatest Commandment in the Bible, namely to love God and express it in action by loving Him in our neighbor.  The first reading, taken from Exodus, explains the different expressions of the love of one’s neighbor, especially of the underprivileged.  In the second reading, St. Paul praises the Thessalonian Christians for the heroic witness they bear to Christ by practicing mutual love.  In the Gospel today, Jesus combines the commandment to love God with the commandment to love one’s neighbor and gives the result as one Commandment of supreme importance in Christian life.

First reading explained (Ex 22:20-26): Since Jesus, in today's Gospel, sums up the Law of God in a formula of loving God and loving others, the passage chosen from Exodus prepares us for this message. This passage is part of a long narrative, Exodus, chapters 19-24, in which the Hebrews, liberated from Egypt, are in the desert of Sinai.  God announces His desire to enter a Covenant with the people.  Moses is the mediator.  God manifests Himself in terrifying thunder, lightning and clouds.  God gives the terms of the Covenant in various paragraphs, on several occasions.  The people assent to the terms.  These include the familiar Ten Commandments, the paragraphs that elaborate the commandments in great detail, ritual prescriptions and much more.  This is the context of today's first reading which is taken from a section of Exodus dealing with the laws of social conduct, especially the social ethic based, not on justice, but on a compassion like God’s, resulting from the love they are to have for their underprivileged fellow-human beings.  The Law of Moses civilized the Jews, instilling in them the idea that it was wrong to oppress an alien or take advantage of the poor, things they themselves had suffered, because their God cared for widows and orphans and wanted them to do the same.  The result was that the ancient Jews began to build an excellent, humane society rooted in the basic religious concept that loving God necessarily involves loving one’s neighbor. 

 The second reading explained (I Thes 1:5c-10): First Thessalonians is the earliest letter we have from Saint Paul.  The first century AD Thessalonians lived and served in a mostly pagan city with an enthusiasm so contagious as to attract others to the Church. Here Paul congratulates his audience on the positive effects of their example of loving one another as Jesus commanded them to do.  They have received the Gospel with ready faith, he tells them, and they have withstood persecution with joy.  Those actions, particularly their loving response to Paul, their ready belief in Jesus and their generous living out of that Faith, have bolstered the Faith of Christians elsewhere who have heard about them.  Paul and these earliest Christians believed that Jesus would come again very soon.  Their conviction was that God was soon to bring history to its end with the return of Jesus in glory.  [This expectation faded over the years during which the New Testament Scriptures were composed].

Gospel Exegesis: The context: A Pharisee, who believed in both the written Law and the oral tradition, was pleased to see how Jesus defeated the Sadducee who had tried to humiliate Him with the hypothetical case of a woman who married seven husbands.  Out of admiration, he asked Jesus to summarize the most important of the Mosaic Laws in one sentence.  This was a challenge because, in Jesus’ day, there was a double tendency to expand the Mosaic Law into hundreds of rules and regulations and to condense the 613 precepts of the Torah into a single sentence or few sentences.  Jesus’ answer teaches us that the most important commandment is to love God in loving others and to love others in loving God.  In other words, we are to love God and express it by loving our neighbor because God lives in him or her.   

Jesus’ contribution: Jesus gave the Pharisee a straightforward answer, quoting directly from the Law itself and startling his listeners with his profound simplicity and mastery of the Law of God and its purpose.  He cited the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer: … “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Then He added its complementary law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).  Finally, He declared that the “whole Law and the prophets” depended on the commands to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind” and to love “your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus actually combined the originally separate commandments and presented them as the essence of true religion. “The summary of the law is not original with Jesus. Its two parts represent a combination of Dt 6: 5 and Lev 19: 18. Nor is the combination itself original to Jesus, for it is found in at least one earlier Jewish work, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” (Fr. R. H. Fuller).  The uniqueness of Jesus’ response consisted in the fact that he understood the two laws as having equal value or importance.  We are to love our neighbor and our self as a way to love God: God gives us our neighbors to love so that we may learn to love Him.  Thus, Jesus proclaims that true religion loves God both directly and as living in our neighbor.  Biblical love of God is responsive gratitude for, and remembrance of, what God has done for us, rather than an independent project we undertake for God.

 Catechism on the greatest commandment (CCC #2083 & #2196): Love of God means putting Him first, respecting His Name, and keeping His Day [the Sabbath; Sunday for us] holy.  To love God means a dedication of the entire person to His will, placing Him first in one’s mind and the heart, speaking respectfully about Him, and keeping His Day as one of prayer and true recreation, a day to keep His Law.  Love of God transforms lives every waking moment of every day.

Love of neighbor means respect for others, their relationships, their reputations, and their property.  Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 indicate love in action. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means looking at and treating others with the respect God gives them.  This love begins at home with one's parents.  It then extends to others.  Love of neighbor extends beyond our family and friends to strangers, especially to the poor, the sick, and the sinner.  Love of neighbor knows no national borders or class distinctions or barriers of any kind, because God knows no such impediments.

To love our neighbor: Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him.  Love for our neighbor is a matter, not of feelings, but of deeds by which we share with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us.  This is the love for neighbor that God commands in His law.  Since the Jews considered only their fellow-Jews as neighbors, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan, as reported in Luke’s Gospel, to show them what God means by “neighbor.”

Life messages: 1) We need to love God:  Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord's will in all things and make it paramount in our lives.  There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him.  We must keep God's commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition.  We also need to read and meditate on His word in the Bible, and accept His invitation to join Him in the Mass and other liturgical functions when we can.

2) We need to love our neighbor: God’s will is that we should love everyone, seeing Him in our neighbor.  Since every human being is the child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, we are actually giving expression to our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him or her.  This means we need to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone without discrimination based on color, race, gender, age, wealth or social status. Forgiveness, too, is vital.  We love others by refusing to hold a grudge for a wrong done to us.  Even a rebuke can be an act of love, if it is done with the right heart. We also express love through encouragement and by helping each other to grow.  We express agápe love by meeting a need that God has given us the power to meet, by comforting each other, by teaching each other and by sharing the Gospel, in deeds and in words.  (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

24/10/2017 15:15