Sunday, October 26, 2008

With All Your Heart

1. Last week we heard Jesus told us to Repay to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21). And what belongs to God? Deep down we know the answer - everything belongs to God. In the Gospel of Matthew, between last week’s reading and this week’s, the Sadducees came and tested Jesus regarding the Resurrection. Like He did last week, Jesus answered authoritatively and definitively regarding the truth that there is a resurrection of the body. The resurrection will not be to the same kind of life we have now. It will be to a new and glorious life in Heaven with the Father. At the same time, it will indeed be a bodily resurrection. And everyone will rise from the dead. It is important to keep this in mind. When we stand before Christ at the end of the world to be judged, everyone who ever existed will be there also. The people we love, the people we do not love. Those whom we look forward to meeting, and those whose existence is inconvenient or whose presence may provoke us. For example, for many the unborn, the sick or the elderly are inconvenient, (just as the Jews were to the Nazis) . They will all be there, as will anyone else whose personhood was denied either by the state or by other people’s wishful thinking. But what will we do when we meet them? How will we deal with the fact that God loves each and every human being He has made?
2. Our capacity to stand at the end of the world is related to today’s question from the Pharisees. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus’ answer in this case is not all that astonishing really. A familiar prayer came from the book of Deuteronomy Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) . The second part of Jesus’ answer was not really novel either: you shall love the your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Although many people like to quote an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24) as Old Testament justice, those scribes and Pharisees who studied the scriptures should have known well that the law required the people to look out for the good of those weak and vulnerable. (Eye for an eye etc.. in fact is the the punishment for injuring a pregnant woman while at the same time causing a miscarriage). The reading heard from Exodus exhorted the people to care for the orphans and widows and also the aliens- that is, those from other countries regardless of religion. As God had cared for them, they were to care for those who abandoned or strangers in their midst. God even threatens them that if anyone mistreats these vulnerable people, that He will let the oppressors be punished severely. The Lord’s assures them that He is compassionate and hears the cry of the smallest weakest people.
3. If we were to study the history contained in the Old Testament we would learn that when the People lost their land and went into exile, it was because of their unjust behavior. In fact, they were greedy for material goods, and many practiced child sacrifice, killing and burning their sons and daughters in worship of false gods. The Pharisees knew all this history (they were trying to avoid repeating it) and they knew that loving God is revealed in love of neighbor.
4. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments are indeed the foundation of the whole law as stated in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the Living Law, Jesus Christ. In this particular case, there really should not have been any argument with the Pharisees. The big question comes later: who is my neighbor? The Gospel makes clear the answer to the question. Everyone is my neighbor. Not only those whom I like or agree with, but those who would be my enemy. And we must not forget that the Lord takes into special account those who are most in need of mercy.
5. Another question that arises is: what does it mean to love them as myself? The consideration that Jesus is asking for is not merely a warm fuzzy feeling, or a set of kind sounding words, or even for that matter a few actions. For we all know that love is not merely any of those things. It is entirely possible to say words or even do things with no charity whatsoever. For example, we can open our wallet and give someone something so that they will go away and leave us alone. But Charity requires more. We are called by Christ to treat them as if they were ourselves. To give them the same consideration and mercy that we ourselves desire. To see their good as our good, and what would harm them as harming us.
6. The answer to the question who is my neighbor and how am I to love them is clarified when Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us (see John 15:9-12). In other words, we can only obey the commandments when we love as Jesus loved. And how does Jesus love? He poured out the last drop of His blood to save us.
7. In Jesus, everyone is my neighbor. It is already true from the scientific point of view- we are all interrelated. And whatever happens to one of us, is going to affect the rest of the human race. It is especially true because of the life of Jesus. He is God who became a human being, exactly like us in every way. He did not sin, that is true. But Jesus did take upon Himself all the consequences of human sin. Saint Paul even says that For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
8. Jesus did come to save those who were mighty (for who could be considered mighty in the face of the living God?). He did not come to save those who are righteous in their own eyes, (for who can make themselves holy without God?). Jesus did not even come to save those who loved Him first. No, He came to save sinners and those who are weak. In demonstrating His authority and power, Jesus strove to remove the blinders from those who listened to Him and would propose themselves as His judges. Only in realizing our weakness, our sinfulness, our need of a savior, our inability to save ourselves, our complete dependence upon our Lord both individually, and in solidarity with those who in the world are vulnerable can we begin to receive the graces that we need to live in the hope of Jesus’ promises.

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