Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
Love of God and love of neighbor; a summary of all laws; all others flow from these. We recall that in the Gospel of last Sunday the Pharisees had a plan to trap Jesus on the question of paying or not paying taxes to Caesar. Their plan failed. In today’s Gospel the Pharisees come back for “round two” with yet another plan to trap Jesus. This time, their question is not even sincere. The question put forward by a scholar of the law is about the greatest commandment of the Jewish Law. It is important to know that the Pharisees categorized the Jewish code of law into 613 laws! Jesus' answer was based on the first five books of the Bible, and reduced the law into two great commandments. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind", and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In this response we find a summary of Jesus’ central message in Matthew’s Gospel. The greatest commandment is love. The law of love is a summary of God’s plan of salvation. We need not worry like the Pharisees about which is the greatest commandment if we truly love God and our neighbor. But there is a radical element in Jesus’ teaching concerning the imperative to love one’s neighbor. While the Jewish understanding of love of neighbor was limited to Jewish brothers or sisters, Jesus added the aspect of compassion which extended that meaning beyond one’s nation to include everybody irrespective of religion, race, party affiliation and even across class boundaries, with no one seen as an insider or outsider. Jesus did not discard the other commandments, but said that all others flow from the law of love, which places demands on his followers. If anyone is hungry, then feed them; go help them. They deserve attention because that is biblical justice based on what Jesus teaches and what the Church teaches. Failure to love another person is failure to love Christ. To love another person as oneself is to love Christ. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me" (Mt. 25:31-46).
Against this background, we reflect on the first reading from the Book of Exodus, which recalls the old Jewish code of law for daily life. The passage tells us that strangers, orphans, widows and the poor in general are very special to God and thus must never be neglected or mistreated. It is the Lord who speaks in this passage in defense of these categories of people. We hear very harsh words regarding the way the Lord will deal with us if we neglect or mistreat them. As a worshiping community and as individual Christians, we are challenged this Sunday to take a hard look at the way we treat the poor, foreigners, people of another color, the disadvantaged, and those who are different from us in culture and values. We are challenged to evaluate the way we carry out our social ministry. Our attitude towards the poor and disadvantaged touches the very center of the Commandment of Love of God and neighbor. In the First Letter of John the Evangelist we are told that love of neighbor has to do with truthfulness. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar, for whoever does not love the brother whom he sees cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Authenticity of our faith, our love of God and our relationship with Christ is measured by the way we treat others; 2)We are challenged to take a hard look at the way we treat the poor, strangers, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and those who are different from us because of their race, culture and values; 3) The Lord deals severely with our negative attitudes and actions towards others, particularly the poor, strangers, the disadvantaged and those different from us. The readings today challenge us to seek repentance and forgiveness for our negative attitudes towards others and the way we tend to treat them.
©2017 John S. Mbinda