God's Word on Sunday: God demands justice for all, as should we

  • October 27, 2023

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

Those who have “made it” in the world often forget their humble origins — in fact, many labour to cover them up. Similarly, immigrant nations sometimes forget their struggles and show little sympathy to new immigrants arriving on their shores. Often those who have suffered injustices visit these same misdeeds on others, forgetting their own experience of pain. Fortunately, some remember their hard upward climb and compassionately extend a helping hand to those struggling along behind them.

Perhaps with this human tendency in mind, the Lord warned the Israelites not to abuse or oppress aliens dwelling in the land. After all, they should remember what it was like to be in a strange and hostile land, for they had been slaves in Egypt. Neither were they to abuse the weak and vulnerable — widows and orphans — for God is always sensitive and alert to their cries of distress and will deal out swift justice.

The demands of God’s justice are for all — there are absolutely no exceptions or free passes. Violate them at your own risk. Economic oppression is high on God’s list of forbidden injustices. Exorbitant, crushing interest — in fact, any interest at all — was strictly forbidden. The lending of money to the poor should be an act of compassion rather than enslavement. The reason God is so attuned to the pain and distress of the poor and oppressed is that God is compassionate. And being compassionate, God expects — in fact, demands — that we be the same.

The commandments we find in Exodus are God’s attempt to build a just and compassionate society worthy of the divine name. As long as these principles of compassion and justice were practised, the nation thrived. But when they were forgotten or trampled underfoot, disaster followed.

This care for one another — especially the weak and vulnerable — has been a clear and consistent call throughout the entire Bible. In fact, failure in these areas are the sins for which God’s wrath was kindled throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Our world will begin its healing only when — and if — we take this call to heart and begin to walk the path of mercy and justice.

Paul was gratified by the reception his preaching had received in Thessalonica. The people there had taken his message to heart and had turned from idol worship to the living and true God. It had not been without cost, for they had endured some persecution. But they had accepted it all with joy — a true sign of the presence of God’s Spirit. Conversion is another way of expressing spiritual awakening, and it is something that we all need. We can never say that we have “arrived” spiritually. The process of growth and transformation continues into eternity.

God’s commandments are breathtakingly simple (not easy) but are universal in their application. If all the Bibles in the world were to disappear, leaving us only the Great Commandment, we would have sufficient guidance for salvation and for building a just and compassionate world. When Jesus was put to the test by being asked which of the commandments was the greatest, He replied with Israel’s foundational commandment — you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Jesus did not offer anything new or unique — this was the core of Israel’s spirituality and ethics. This is not something done on Sundays or whenever we happen to have a spare moment. It is as fundamental as breathing and eating.

Jesus did a bit of fine tuning by quoting from Leviticus 19:18 — you shall love your neighbour as yourself. A seamless bond was forged between love of God and love of neighbour. The two halves of this love commandment can never be separated or compromised for they represent the binding force of our world. A fine balance is called for. It is easy to fall into either over-involvement with human concerns with little thought to God, or love of God accompanied by indifference to the needs of others. At the end of the account, Jesus declared that the entire law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

The Great Commandment should always be at the forefront of our awareness — it is the reason we exist.