If only those who demand the Big Ten be posted in every public place in America to return us to moral values would settle instead for the commandments Jesus chose.
– Val Webb (Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine) p. 116
The readings for the thirtieth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.
Before we get too far into the homily we need to talk about the Shema. Rabbi Shraga Simmons tells us that the “Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught to say. It is the last words a Jew says prior to death.”
The Shema is important to our Sunday Gospel because when Jesus was asked to say the greatest commandment He turned to one of the best known and important phrases in Judaism.
and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
– Deuteronomy 6: 5
This response would clearly have been expected, by the Lawyer who asked the question. On this point both Jesus and the Jewish leaders would have agreed.
The scripture scholar will tell you that in the Deuteronomy verse the heart is properly interpreted to mean desires. The soul is properly interpreted to mean life. Might is properly interpreted as wealth. Therefore, both Judaism and Christianity are asked to love God with all of our desires, our very life, and our wealth.
In Matthew’s retelling of the Deuteronomy verse, “might” turned to “mind”, which is thought to be another way to say heart or intellect. Regardless what the individual words mean, together they define a great love for God.
This love for God is not simply something you hold in your heart, but one you act out in your daily living. Love is not only something you feel, but primarily something you do. That is to be our understanding from the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus then turns to a Jewish law that the leaders would not have expected.
The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
– Leviticus 19: 34
This verse from Leviticus was considered a minor law in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, but great in the eyes of Jesus.
Scripture scholars will tell you that Judaism taught, and still teaches, that the world hangs on the Torah (lifelong Jewish education), avodah (Temple worship), and gemilut chasadim (the pursuit of justice, peace, and deeds of loving-kindness). Matthew’s Jesus put the acts of love front and center by hanging all the laws and prophets on love of God and neighbor. This new understanding was a clear departure from the traditional teachings of Judaism.
Some believe that Matthew creates a new morality by stating all laws are subject to these greatest commandments. As Christians, all our laws and doctrines are to be subject to these great commandments.
Another way to state this is to say that upon these two commandments hangs all Catholic law and doctrine. That is our Christian morality. The great commandments should be our litmus test for all Catholic teaching.
This is a hard teaching and one we struggle with daily. When you think about loving somebody as you love yourself it becomes clear that it is not easy to do.
In our life we rank others, because it is human nature to develop some divisions with which to assess others. We have words in our human language such as first world, third world, first class citizen, second class citizen, etc. We say to ourselves; how else would we be able to describe how we fit into the world if not with these words?
We rank people instantaneously, without even knowing it. Think about the strangers we meet every day. Within seconds we have assessed another person by the way they dress, their age, and their gender. Without even realizing it we have ranked others on a scale that we have developed.
Theoretically, the humble person would rank all others higher than themselves. This is not our human nature. Some people we will rank higher and others lower. This happens so quickly that we have to step outside ourselves to even see that we are doing this. Luckily for us, loving our neighbor as ourselves is a deed not a thought. We can take time to correct our thoughts so that they do not inform our deeds.
This is our challenge as Christians. We must become aware of those people in our life who we consider to be lower on our scale, or to borrow from our human language, second class citizens.
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to practice our Christian morality, which is to love God and our neighbor. Good practice makes perfect, is an idiom I am fond of using.
Think about that coach you had, with the windbreaker and the whistle, yelling at you to do it again. There is a phrase that runs through my mind; we are going to do this until we get it right.
You may not have had the experience of that coach in your life, but allow the Holy Spirit to be your conscience in matters of love of God and neighbor. If you see that your deeds are creating second class citizens in the world it is time to practice the greatest commandments.
It is time, this Sunday, to examine our attitude toward others. Do our deeds demonstrate that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves?
We don’t consider ourselves to be second class citizens, and we shouldn’t treat others that way. This is a hard teaching but it is vital for our salvation.