October 21, 2011

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus provides this weekend with its first reading.

In ancient Jewish tradition, Moses wrote Exodus. In a most special way, it was regarded as the very word of God.

Moses represented God and was the link between God and the Chosen People. Through Moses, God gave directions for every aspect of life.

This weekend’s reading from Exodus addresses very specific realities in life, such as the lending of money.

The details, of course, are important. However, also important are the underlying principles. Not even aliens can be exploited or mistreated. Every person has the right to be respected and treated justly.

To break this law, or any law of God, unleashes a flood of misfortune. Human sin brings about the consequences.

The lesson given here is neither rare in the Scriptures nor open to exceptions. Primary in the Hebrew religion from the beginning was respect for each person—respect founded on the notion of God as the Creator and final governor of human lives.

For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Paul’s advice is firm. He offers his own devotion to the Lord as an example. Following Jesus brings joy, the Apostle insists.

Bearing witness to Christ—or evangelization, a theological term often used in modern times—is an opportunity for Christians.

Paul urged the Christian Thessalonians to be a model for all the people of Macedonia and Achaia.

He tells the Thessalonians that their faith, their turning away from idols, has been an inspiration to many people.

St. Matthew’s Gospel once again this month supplies the last reading.

It is a familiar and beloved text. The question of the Pharisees in this story most likely was intended not to trick but rather to discredit Jesus. It was a test. Did the Lord know the teachings of Moses?

For the Pharisees, Jesus was a rival for the people’s confidence. The competition was all the more tense since Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees. For the Pharisees, all this was painfully unacceptable.

In responding, Jesus builds a case on the teaching of Moses itself, specifically referring to Deuteronomy (Dt 6:5) and Leviticus (Lv 19:8), two of the five books of the Pentateuch, in Jewish parlance of the Torah. These verses and the teachings conveyed were from Moses.

The emphasis is on unconditional love, fundamental for the life and behavior of any true believer. Concentrating on love, to the exclusion of anything else, of any

self-interest or “self-defense” even, was as difficult for people in the time of Jesus as it would be at any time.

Jesus is God’s spokesman. He wisely interprets the law of Moses. The true disciple must balance every decision against the standard of love for God, uncompromised and absolute. True discipleship also means active respect for every other person. Every human being is God’s treasured creation.

In the words of Jesus, love for the Father cannot be removed from love for others, and indeed love for all others.

Reflection

The reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, with the Lord’s response to the Pharisees, brings us into direct confrontation, not just with the usual conventions of human conduct but also, to a significant degree, with human nature itself.

Forgetting hurts and slights is hard. Instinctively, we defend ourselves against anyone or anything perceived to be a threat.

Jesus calls disciples to love everyone, deeply and profoundly. That presumes forgiveness. It presumes commitment to live in a way that often may seem difficult and even unnatural.

This reading also reminds us that true Christianity is more than an intellectual assent to certain theological propositions. Christianity means a way of life.

For this way of life, believers have God’s Revelation as guidance and the Lord’s example as a model. †

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