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 (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 pece 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.
Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out the others. Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion. We keep forgetting it and thoughtlessly look elsewhere. But each time we return to where there is pain, we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world,” (p. 142).
The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40
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
Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), a clergyman, author, and proponent of the Social Gospel Movement, wrote: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
From Dorothy Day, Selected Writings:
“We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, “We need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow, the walls expanded. (362-363).
Friends, have you noticed how easy it is to contradict things and make fools of ourselves sometimes? Sometimes things may be funny and sometimes the same things can get us in trouble. You know things were not much different in Jesus day with the Scribes and Pharisees, they were full of contradictions and self-deceit, convinced that they were the truly holy ones and everyone else were great sinners. Jesus tells us that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we have to be better than they were. This week and next as Jesus continues his sermon on the mount he gives us various illustrations of what he means by being better. Basically, Jesus is trying to show us that holiness goes beyond external behavior. Holiness must be deep inside of us. And that which must be deep inside of us, that which makes us truly holy is love: love of God and love of each other. Certainly the way we behave is important. God’s commandments tell us that; Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and mother, keep holy the Lord’s day and so on. Keeping God’s instructions about what we must do or not do will guide us to a better life. Jesus also wants us to have such love in our hearts that we wouldn’t even want disobey his commandments. We might be thinking that this is a big order that Jesus gives us and you know it is. Jesus asks a lot from his followers. Sirach tells us in today’s first reading that if you choose, you can keep the commandments. I think we need to add, only with God’s help. For Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.”
Friends, God’s help is available to us through prayer and the sacraments. But we must be careful not to condemn ourselves when feelings come to us, feelings of anger, laziness, envy, lust, greed, pride or whatever. We are all human and we all experience those feelings. The important thing is what we do with these feelings. Do we dwell on them, hold on to them and allow them to take over our thinking, or do we consider whether they fit with what Jesus would want of us and choose to go in the direction of what we know Jesus would want? I know we all know what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing. I know we all make mistakes we all make wrong choices sometimes and that is because we are human.
However if we choose to really allow our hearts to be filled with God’s love we will have absolutely no problem sharing that love with God and our neighbor.
And we always have the wonderful sacraments to help us, especially Reconciliation and the very Body and Blood of Jesus himself.
Our bishop elect Edward Scharfenberger said in his first statement to us, his sheep in the Diocese of Albany “help me to be the best self that I can be.” What a wonderful statement, “help me to be the best self that I can be.” Just imagine how much greater our parish would be if we all helped each other to be the best self that we can be. Imagine how much better each of us would be if we helped each other to be the best self we could be.