Theme: Make your life meaningful
God’s love for us is a mandate and a command. We need to respond not by mere feelings but with decisive conviction. Feelings come and go as they wish; instead love is a mandate, a choice, a decision, and a commitment to do things the best way possible. That is why Jesus is commanding us to love others.
It’s what we do to others, not how we feel toward them that matters.
First reading: Exodus 22:20-26
In this reading the differences in the human family are well noted. Some are poor, others are rich. But God extends his compassion over all. By virtue of its relationship with God; Israel was called to do the same. Exodus 20:22-23 details the obligations of the people with whom God had forged a covenant. This ancient law was meant to attend to various forms of oppression of the disadvantaged members of society among them; aliens, foreigners, widows, orphans and the poor. The grounds for the prohibition of such oppression were threefold: 1- Israel knew what it was like to be a stranger cf. Exodus 20:20. 2- By nature God is compassionate cf. Exodus 22:26. 3- The covenant with God rules out exploitation for any reason whatsoever Exodus 22:22.
Aliens were vulnerable because they lacked the protection outside their own homeland thus they would were to be provided an adoption tribe to keep them safe. Widows who were considered a disgrace had no rights in patriarchal societies. Though some law to care for them was prescribed, it was less honored cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If a father died, his children were regarded as orphans, even if their mother still survived. Then in the legislation regarding the loaning of money to the poor in Exodus 22:24.26 we can detect an underlying reference to the odiousness that frequently accompanied such a practice. An inordinate amount of interest was frequently exacted from those least capable of paying it. According to the ancient rabbinical teaching, the root of interest is nsk meaning to bite; which resembled the bite of a snake on a person’s foot which was not felt at first, but once it started to swell, it distended the whole body. So it is with money interest.
By law, a pledge could be required as security that the loan be repaid cf. Deuteronomy 24:17. For a poor person, the best thing to offer as a pledge was his/her cloak which was a multi-purpose, serving as attire by day and blanket by night. By requiring creditors to return it before sunset, the poor person was at least protected against the cold night. Today God asks to treat every one as a brother and a sister when granting a loan. The loan therefore should be given with joy and without asking interest in return. Spiritually speaking, love goes beyond the biological family. It applies to the spiritual family that we belong to, which is the Body of Christ the Church. It means that when another person is in need, we should joyfully help him/her out without prejudice.
Second reading: 1Thessalonians 1:5-10
Paul had written to Thessalonica commending them for proving their faith, laboring in love and showing constancy in hope. Although, these three qualities had not yet been defined as theological virtues, the caliber of the Thessalonians’ commitment to a life of faith, hope and love had begun to attract others to Christ. Today, Paul calls them models and witnesses of the gospel. In what must have been a fairly populated city, given the fact that Thessalonica was a great sea port and a crossroads for major sea and land trade routes; the Christians were no doubt invisible. Nevertheless their zeal for the faith had an impact throughout the region. This notion of giving public Christian witness may be difficult for us today. Our modern Generation has a way of losing itself in the crowd. We are a people who do not want to attract attention. We want to be everyman and everywoman. Now, there is something to be said on this attitude. Obviously, the Thessalonians could not be accused of cowardice; they were enthusiastic in their ministry. The word enthusiasm derived from the Greek term enthusiasmos means entheos: a god within, or en + theos: in god. In the antique world, when people were eager and excited, it was assumed that a god had taken possession of them. Christian Thessalonians had left their former way of life and had become the special possession of God. This new life filled them with joy, even in the midst of great affliction cf. 1Thessalonians 1:6. Whatever suffering Thessalonians experienced for the sake of the gospel such as persecution and ostracization, they were regarded as a necessary prelude to the parousia which they understood to be very close at hand. Because of their experience of the living God, Thessalonians served with an enthusiasm so contagious as to attract others to the way. We are invited to do the same.
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
There is an immortal story written about a man called Abou Ben Adhem. This man woke up from his sleep one night and saw in his room an angel writing in a book of gold the names of those who love God. ‘Is my name among those names!, inquired Abou’. No, nothing, replied the angel. ‘I beg you, then, said Abou, write me as one who loves his fellow men’. The following night the angel came again and displayed the names of those who love God and Abou Ben Adhem’s name topped the list. This story proves that true love of God and true love of fellow human beings are like two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist apart from the other. That is what Jesus is asked about as the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus gives a practical answer which is love of neighbour. True love of God and true love of neighbour is practically one and the same thing. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” Matthew 22:37-40.
The Pharisees wanted an expert in the law to trap Jesus by asking him which law was most important. In Jesus’ time some laws were considered heavy/such as love of God while others were considered light/such as love of neighbor. Jesus responded saying that the whole law could be summarized in the love of God and neighbor cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 for both are equal and important. Jesus reacted against one-dimensional understanding of love, for true love must express itself in three dimensions which are love of God, love of neighbor and love of self.
When we ask a question that demands one straightforward answer and the person answers our question and goes on to add another thing that we did not actually ask for, it is most likely that the person is trying to get our attention on the added element. We saw it last week when Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus answered, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and then went on to add and to God what is God’s’. Here the emphasis of Jesus is not on Caesar but on God’s rights which they were ignoring. In the same way, the emphasis in today’s question about the greatest commandment is not on the obvious love of God but on the love of neighbour which they were trampling upon. Mother Teresa of Calcutta inspired by Mahatma Gandhi put a writing on the wall of the home hangs a sign which reads:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY
There are still many Christians who try to separate love of fellow human beings from love of God this is the error of the Pharisees that we need to challenge. The love of God and love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin. Love originates from God who takes the first initiative to love all people. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa; let this be our desire; to build a world where people of every race, creed, nationality, social status, gender and generation are loved and accepted because each is already loved and accepted by God.