Archbishop Blase J. Cupich kisses the Book of the Gospels on the altar during his installation Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago Nov. 18. CNS photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Greatest commandment must be lived

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 29 (Year A) Exodus 22:21-27; Psalm 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that we live in a moral universe. Despite the opinions of sceptics who claim that the universe is without cause, meaning or ultimate goal, we are all here for a purpose.

The years we spend on Earth are learning years — like a school — and as in any school, some accomplish more than others. The primary lesson we are to learn is that we are our “brother’s keeper.”

We are responsible for the well-being and happiness of others, not just our own. If we focus only on our own, especially at the expense of others, then we have earned a failing grade in Humanity 101.

Exodus, along with Leviticus and other books of the Old Testament, point to the poor, weak and vulnerable as our primary concern. God reminded the Israelites that they had tasted slavery and oppression in Egypt, so they should be all the more sensitive to issues of justice. God wanted them to build a society and a nation in which people were cherished and cared for — unlike what they had experienced in Egypt.

Human nature being what it is, this was quickly forgotten. We can be merciless with those who struggle with situations that echo in our own past. In a clear statement of the principle “what goes around comes around,” God warned them of dire consequences if they treated the weak and vulnerable in an unjust manner.

Economic oppression is nothing new — it has been with us since the beginning of time. Foreigners, strangers in the land and immigrants have always been targets of abuse right up to and including our own day. Divine warnings have not deterred some people from bigotry, injustice and oppression, even while waving Bibles and claiming scriptural support for their attitudes.

They need to read the Scriptures again, this time with an open heart and mind. We are at a critical and rather dangerous point in our collective history. We face many challenges, many almost overwhelming. Our future will be determined by our attitudes, actions and choices. But there is only one path that leads to life on all levels and that is God’s path of mercy, compassion and justice that we find consistently proclaimed in the Scriptures.

Paul also lived in a precarious time. He praised his community in Thessalonica which, faced with the challenges of the time, chose God’s path. The people recognized that their own culture, along with its human attitudes and customs, did not offer satisfactory answers to their personal struggles or the challenges of the time. They opened themselves to the message that Paul had been preaching and they were pleasantly surprised. After having received the Holy Spirit, they lived in a joyful, generous and welcoming manner. The Gospel is powerful and effective, but only when it is applied and lived.

What if we had to express the principles that govern what we believe and how we live in just one sentence? It’s not as difficult as we might think! In response to a question concerning the greatest of the commandments, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6, the core of Israel’s faith.

Love can mean many different things and in its ancient context it differs a bit from most modern uses of the word. First, love meant absolute loyalty and fidelity. We see this amplified in the insistence that one must love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind. Lukewarm commitment or half-heartedness was out of the question. God simply had to be the centre of one’s life.

He added something from Leviticus 18, not as a second commandment, but as an interpretation and application of the first: and your neighbour as yourself. Worship of God and care for others are inseparable. Without this other-directed concern, one’s relationship with God is incomplete and flawed.

Caring for others with compassion, justice and concern is one of the highest forms of worship. When we forget either God or the well-being of others, everyone suffers. In our own time, we are perhaps faltering in both.

This great commandment is a wonderful mantra to repeat prayerfully each day, so that it might form all our words, thoughts and actions. Even in the face of the world’s darkness, we are not helpless.