CNS photo/Jerry L. Mennenga, Catholic Globe

‘The Gospel without joy is not the Gospel’

  • October 16, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 26 (Exodus 22:21-27; Psalm 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40) 

Remember who you were and what it felt like to be abused and oppressed. Exodus addressed this admonition and guidance to the Israelites but it is also meant for us. The people of Israel were reminded to remember the bitterness and suffering of slavery in Egypt in all of their dealings with other people. It is a variation on the Golden Rule — if you didn’t like the way you were treated, then don’t treat others in the same manner. 

The warning was quite specific: the treatment of the weak and defenseless in any society is a good measurement of its spiritual and moral health. Widows and orphans were the umbrella symbol for all those without support, sustenance and influence. A similar warning was given concerning “resident aliens” (a somewhat modern term) that simply meant non-Israelites who were already dwelling in the land. It was clear that God does not side with the rich and powerful if they do not walk the path of justice but with the poor, oppressed and defenseless. God will hear their cries and mete out justice even on those who claim special status or relationship with God. 

The universe that God created is moral and spiritual in nature and we forget this at our own peril. But we have either forgotten or chosen to ignore it. The dwellers in the land of Israel today are oppressed and brutalized. Western societies demonstrate an appalling lack of care for its poor and weak members whose ranks grow yearly. Human rights are under siege in numerous places. Even the Christian church’s historical record of injustice is a cause of pain and regret. Nations, societies and human institutions of any type cannot take refuge in power, economic or political ideology or religious language to justify or mitigate contempt for God’s basic commandment. We or our ancestors have all been slaves in Egypt. Many of us have experienced cruelty or hardship in our own lives. Often those who have “made it” materially or spiritually (so they think) turn away from those still struggling. Remembering that we were slaves in Egypt will prevent the oppressed from becoming the oppressor. The perpetual cycle of cruelty, injustice and heartlessness should end with us. 

Joyful faith spreads like wildfire. The people of Thessalonica had received Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel with joy inspired by the Spirit. Their lives were changed — they turned from the worship of idols to the living and true God. Persecution did not hinder their faith at all, in fact, it strengthened it. The “joy of the Gospel,” something so sadly lacking in our own age, is what Pope Francis strives to recover for Christianity. The Gospel without joy is not the Gospel. 

The Pharisees asked Jesus to indicate which of the commandments of the Law was the greatest. He responded with what appeared to be two commandments, but in reality they were both vital parts of the one primal commandment of love. It was a further refinement and intensification of the principle set forth in the passage from Exodus. Loving the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul and mind was the commandment of Deuteronomy 6, so this is merely a reiteration of the tradition. Jesus joined this to the command in Leviticus to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The message was clear: to love God is to love neighbour and it is impossible to have one while omitting the other. The believer, other people and God form a triad that should be an expression of love. True religion can never be separated from love of others, and when this has occurred in the past the results were tragic. This was later amplified in 1 John’s insistence that anyone who claimed to love God but hated their neighbour was a liar. Exodus (and many other passages in Scripture) teach us that love is expressed in actions, such as compassion, justice and kindness. Jesus ended by saying that this fundamental principle was the anchor and foundation for all of the Law and the Prophets. Mastering this commandment is the primary reason we are all here. It is the commandment given to humanity in the beginning and it will last until the end of time.