1st Reading: Exodus 22: 20-26
This pericope is the Covenant Code between God and God’s people. Certain classes are singled out: strangers, widows, orphans, the poor. God always sides with the marginalized. God reminds them that they were once strangers too. It’s like that saying not to know what someone is going through unless you walk a mile in their shoes.
From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now:
Compassion – which means, literally, “to suffer with” – is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation (p. 135). The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid…It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God (pgs. 138-139).
The 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10
Paul seems very pleased with this early church. They must have been living Jesus’ words sincerely in their lives. He seems to emphasize the effect of modeling that sincerity, without the need to even say anything. How powerful affirmation is and being reminded that there is good in us!
Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out to others. Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day…,” (p. 142, 31).
In verses 9 and 10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life. The Thessalonians SERVED God and WAITED on the coming of Christ. The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187).
The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40
On the face of it, the question appears very honest. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah. How could anyone remember all of them? Were some more important than others? (Pilch’s Cultural World of Jesus, p. 154) But the Pharisees are continuing (from last week’s reading) in their quest to target Jesus. He turns to scripture for his answer, citing Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18).
From Eduard Schweizer, The Gospel According to Matthew:
Jesus “explicitly places the commandment to love one’s neighbor on equal footing with the commandment to love God, and adds that ‘the entire Law and the prophets’ depend (literally ‘hang’) on these two commandments, perhaps the way a door hangs on its hinges. Then righteousness as a whole depends on the fulfillment of these two commandments . . . they are (together) the ‘great’ commandment because they are the only ones needed. Jesus fuses these two and, thus, prescribes how to perform the first: only the first commandment is called ‘great,’ but the second is equal to it, for one can love God only by loving one’s neighbor (425-426).”
To love was to have a sense of belonging to that person or group. In other words, to love another was to treat that person as a member of one’s family. To love God was to belong totally to God. In biblical terms, the heart was considered the center of a person’s entire being – the life, emotion, and totality of that person. The soul was the life force or physical life itself. Matthew seems to use mind instead of strength in order to stress the element of understanding and decision that is required to turn one’s heart over completely to God. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 553