FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Exodus 22:20-26 | Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51 | 1 Thessalonians 1:5C-10 | Matthew 22:34-40
On this Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are being reminded that love of God finds its expression in our love for our neighbor.
The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Copper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."
The example used in our First reading calls to mind the exile of Israel and its own uncertain existence in Egypt. God’s love brought the Israelites out of Egypt where they had been strangers. Our Scripture posts the question, how were they to repay God’s love? Today's passage reminds us to care for the strangers, widows, and the orphans in our midst. Any mistreatment of the vulnerable people in the society would be interpreted as a direct offense to God. Harsh as he is in his wording, the author of Exodus makes the point that the Lord loves all, and He expects His people to do the same. We are to extend the compassion of God to those most needy among us. How do you repay God’s love for you? Do you pass it on? Do you pay it forward?
After a seminar at HAPAG-LAYKO, a Catholic Christian Formation for lay people at Saint Vincent School of Theology, Dr. Emil Libera turned and made the ritual gesture: "Are there any questions?" He was greeted with silence. "No questions?" The professor swept the room with his eyes. Alas from the back row, "Dr. Libera, what is the meaning of life?" The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go. The professor held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at the gentleman who asked the question for a long period of time, asking with his eyes if indeed the question was serious or in jest. "I will answer your question." Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into the leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went something like this: "When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found broken pieces of a mirror. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece; This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went through life, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world into black places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life." And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and slowly reflected them onto all that were in the room. Are you allowing the light of Christ to shine through you?
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul advises his Greek audience to imitate the leaders of our church and God. Every place the Thessalonians went, the “word of the Lord sounded forth.” Their lamps were burning brightly modeling the church leaders and God. Centuries later, Francis of Assisi said much the same thing when he directed the people of his day to preach the word of God always and, if necessary, to use words. How can you yourself — without preaching — “sound forth”? Can you “sound forth” with actions as well as words? The challenge for us is for our lives to lead others to see something in us they are lacking and very much want.
I remember when I was in the minor seminary; we have a rule to help out with the cleaning up and washing the dishes after dinner. I hate, hate, and hate washing dishes by hand. One time, I was tempted to just rinse the food off dirty dishes with just water and no longer soap it. When I went to the lavatory to execute my hideous plan, I saw a poster mounted on the wall which says, "Wash the plate not because it’s dirty nor you’re told to wash it but because you love the person who will use it next” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta).
With some 613 commandments in the Torah, it was inevitable that Jewish rabbis would dispute and debate among themselves about which commandments were the most important. In our Gospel, a scribe attempts to trap Jesus with the question: "What is the greatest commandment of the Law"? Jesus answers by quoting two passages from the Hebrew Scriptures: the command to love God from Deuteronomy 6:5, and the command to love their neighbor from Leviticus 19:18. Though not in so many words, Jesus is implying that the verification of love of God is to be found in the love of one's neighbor. Your belief doesn't not make you a better person. Your behavior does. Gilbert Keith Chesterton explained it well when he said, "Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car." Love of God is incarnated integrally with the love of one's neighbor. In other words, the life of a Christian is, beyond all else, a life of love. That’s easier said than done, especially when we recognize that others don’t always treat us with that sense of selfless love and sometimes even downright hurt us. But, nevertheless, Christ’s law of Love stands firm. We are to love. Always.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum