Ordinary 30th Sunday
Ordinary 30th Sunday
Ex 22: 21-27 1Thess 1: 5c – 10 Mt 22: 34 – 40
Loving fellow human beings helps us to love God more personally, and loving God helps us to love fellow human beings more deeply.
A story is said about an old monk, in a particular monastery, who prayed incessantly for many years for the vision of God. Monasteries of the past and the present have the custom of feeding the poor. on a day of his duty to feed the poor in the gate, when the monk was about to start, the vision of God appeared. He was in a great dilemma whether to look at the vision, for which he had been longing for years, or to feed the poor, who would otherwise wait. Painfully he opted for the second. When he returned after an hour, he was surprised to know that the vision was still there. In the vision, God told him, “I am happy that you went to feed the poor. If you had not gone, I would not have stayed back.”
One of the recurrent themes of the Bible, especially the New Testament, is that love of God and love of neighbours are intimately connected. A person cannot grow in one, without growing in the other. If one claims that one grows in love of God, but has no regard for fellow human beings, then it is nothing but Pharisaism. St. John reiterates this point beautifully when he says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1Jn 4: 20). It was the problem of the Levite and the Priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37). On the other hand, if one says that he loves human beings, but not God, then his love is nothing but superficial.
Our relationship with God has got an inherent repercussion on our relationship with fellow human beings and vice versa. This intimate connection between these two types of love is well explained in the first reading. God told the Israelites, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.”
Jesus, in today’s gospel, corroborates the message of the first reading. Every Jew knew by heart the greatest commandment, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt. 6: 4, 5). There is an age-old Jewish custom of affixing to the doorpost at eye level a plate, on which the words of Dt. 6: 4, 5 are inscribed. It reminds each person’s duty towards God. This custom is known as mezuzah.
The scribe, who questioned Jesus, knew very well that Jesus, as a good Jew, knew the answer to his question about the greatest commandment. However the purpose of asking the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” was, as Matthew points very clearly, to trap him. The lawyer, along with other Pharisees, knew the basic orientation of Jesus and he knew for sure that Jesus would not simply repeat what others were saying. There would be a revolutionary dimension in his answer. They thought that through such an answer they could trap him.
But Jesus’ wisdom was such that he did not much move away from the traditional answer, yet he gave them a revolutionary response. While affirming the traditional answer of loving God, Jesus made his answer revolutionary by equating that greatest commandment with another insignificant commandment i.e. love of neighbours (Lev 19: 18). Once again the Pharisees fell on the trap themselves which they laid for Jesus.
Not only through words, but also through his very life, Jesus affirmed that love of God and love of human beings are two dimensions of the same coin. Without the one, the other has no much of value in itself. Loving fellow human beings helps us to love God more personally, and loving God helps us to love fellow human beings more deeply.
Jesus’ message of integrating these two wings of love is all the more relevant now. These days a new kind of pietism is spreading among the Christians. That is, they are ready to give so much of money to build up churches, grottos etc. Though it is something needed, the problem arises when they are not ready to help the fellow parishioners who are in need.
Fr. Felix Wilfred, an Indian theologian, writes down how loving God and loving human beings are very much inter-related and explains further beautifully what it means to love fellow human beings in today’s context: “To have faith in God is to be in love with people. Loving people is more than giving them alms and aid, more than keeping them forever at the recurring end, dependent. To love neighbours truly, would mean to work with them, to create a new world in which the dignity and freedom of everybody is secure; a world in which all can have rice and the right to speak and relate to one another in love without threat or fear. Love consists in concrete historical caring and concern. It consists in action on behalf of people.”
Prayer by Swamy Omkar
O Lord, may we all be aware of Thy presence in the East and the West, in the North and the South. May peace and good will abide among individuals, communities, and nations.