1. Exodus 22, 20-26
- Immediately I hear the Lord speaking.
I hear a tone of outrage, and also of finality. From this time forward: You shall not molest
or oppress an alien… You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
- Widows and orphans
are not so few in our world, but I may of course expand them to include single mothers and their children. I
know some very well, and hear of countless others, and their number is growing every day. Let me think
of this while I present the text to the assembly. God is outraged, and what about me? What
does ‘molest or oppress’ include? Does it include shifting the tax burden, denying food and
educational assistance, relegating them to domestic service to the rest of their family, and above all squeezing out of them
the hope they have for their children? I will barely be able to contain myself as I read the passage.
- You shall
not act like an extortioner toward your neighbor. If you take your neighbor’s coat
as a pledge you shall return it to him before sunset. For what else has he to sleep in?
So am I the one who is bringing politics into the church? These are the words of scripture, put
in the mouth of God. In fact, everything we declare in the name of social responsibility has been inspired
- Today’s Gospel passage presents the two great commandments, one of which is love for neighbor.
I think that the reading from Exodus is a commentary on love of neighbor. The reading does not tell
us how to love our neighbor, but instead lists prohibitions against some ways we might abuse them. If we
avoid trampling on their destitution and extinguishing the little self-pride left to them, then we can find ways to express
the same positive compassion that God shows.
- If he cries out to me I will hear him, for I am compassionate
– just compassionate, without qualification, and nothing but compassionate. Filled
with compassion, as the psalm says. God is love, self-emptying, as the apostle says. I
will reclaim this word from the sloganeers, because it belongs not to them to defile, but to God alone. And
God has passed judgment on our so-called compassion in today’s reading. This is my faith; I am indeed
proud to profess it!
- Central point: Some of us may become more attuned to God’s command through
our prayer. But to whom is God most attuned? God stands with the powerless among
us. I will surely hear their cry … I am compassionate.
- Message for our assembly: Will we believe what God is telling us? Will
it affect the work of our local church? Will it affect our political goals, and the expectations we have
for our city, our nation and our political leaders? How do we rate against the benchmark of performance
God sets? Will we imitate our creator and sustainer in this?
- I will challenge myself: To speak
these admonitions with God’s own authority, as protector of the poorest people. I often
hear the phrase about the Holy Spirit: ‘Father of the poor.’ Let me show the congregation that
the phrase is not just true but living and effective.
2. I Thessalonians 1, 5-10
gather from the reading that the apostle was very proud of this church. And through his words we come to
understand how evangelization worked in his time, and how it must work in the church today.
- I look for the words and
will make sure my listeners hear them: imitators, affliction, joy from the Holy
Spirit, reception, turned to God, await his Son from heaven.
And what a central role we have in evangelization: From you the word of the Lord has sounded forth.
I will practice that archaic phrasing until it truly ‘sounds forth,’ in a manner worthy of the spiritual
explosion that happened in Thessalonika. Does it describe the way we proclaim the word to each other?
- We have
no need to say anything. The apostle is proud of this church. It is the highest
honor an apostle can give a disciple. It will be a high point in my reading.
- There is another side of the coin, a responsibility
that goes with this recognition. The Thessalonians must remain a role model for others. You
became a model for all believers not only in Macedonia but in Achaia. Everyone now knows about
you: how you serve the living and true God and await his Son from heaven, whom
he raised from the dead – Jesus -- who delivers us. I note the present tense of ‘delivers’
and pass it forward to our own time.
- Central point: Evangelization spreads like a wildfire when it catches hold. In the beginning of
Acts we hear the command to witness to Jesus “in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
- The message for our assembly:
We are not alone. People are watching us, too, to see whether we show the fruits of the Spirit.
- I will challenge myself:
To capture the wonder of the rapid growth of the church through the cities where the apostle traveled, and fill my listeners
with hope for a further spread of the Good News in our own city and time.
Gospel. Matthew 22, 34-40
I look for a catechism in the Bible? In today’s Gospel passage I find it.
- Jesus quotes from
the Bible passage that every Jew knows by heart, and which is announced at the beginning of every Sabbath prayer.
But his answer really comes from within us. It is the impulse of our lives, not a coached answer,
not a fact discovered in a book.
- His adversaries ask him: Which commandment in the law is the greatest?
Jesus answers them a little differently, and I shall mark the difference. This is the greatest
and the first commandment. In other words, it is the foundation of all the others, including the
adds a second commandment like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. As we say
today, when we dedicate ourselves to the cause of men and women, especially those mentioned in the first reading, we in fact
dedicate ourselves to the cause of God.
- Climax: Jesus says: The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Then any catechism we might read must also begin with them.
- Message for our assembly: Neither the law written by Moses nor
the law governing the church is a mere enumeration of human conventions. Both are based on love, which
is at the heart of God’s covenant with us.
- I will challenge myself: To let my whole reading echo this
interior source. We hear this commandment from God and it answers the longing of our hearts.
Word to Eucharist: The God whom we approach today is known among us most
of all as compassionate. Let us pray for the grace to be like the God to whom we pray, to find love at the head of the
catechism of our faith.