Sunday, 29 October 2017 11:21

No need to read any further; practice what you preach

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Some Sundays in church I sit and listen to the Scripture readings waiting for something to strike me, but nothing does. All of it is good and important, but nothing shouts, “This is meant for you here and now!”

But today I only have to get to the beginning of the first reading: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). What could be more “here and now” than that?

This year, two members of my parish have been deported — the father of one family, the mother of another, both after living and working in town for many years.

 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 29
Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18: 2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40

Some Sundays in church I sit and listen to the Scripture readings waiting for something to strike me, but nothing does. All of it is good and important, but nothing shouts, “This is meant for you here and now!”

But today I only have to get to the beginning of the first reading: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). What could be more “here and now” than that?

This year, two members of my parish have been deported — the father of one family, the mother of another, both after living and working in town for many years.

When my pastor touched on these situations in a homily, a parishioner told him to avoid such matters, because Sunday Mass should be an opportunity for inspiration and getting on higher spiritual ground. This week’s first reading indicates that facing the suffering of aliens is an opportunity for inspiration, an invitation to get ourselves to higher ground.

The first reading continues, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan” (Ex 22:21). Those two deportations didn’t produce any literal widows or orphans. But they did break up two families.

Today’s reading is an excerpt from lengthy instructions God gave the Israelites at Mount Sinai about how they were to live with each other when they got to the promised land — a kind of civil and criminal code. Basically, the instructions call for the Israelite villagers to treat each other — and others — with fairness.

The issue of fairness is explicit in today’s excerpt. Why should the Israelites be good to resident aliens in their midst? Because “you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20).

The Israelites had been aliens in Egypt without legal protections, forced to do the hardest manual work. Now that God has rescued them from that situation, how unfair it would be if they, of all people, were unkind to their own resident aliens!

Years ago, my grandfather came here from Italy. My mother came from England. Do the needs of today’s immigrants raise an issue of fairness for me? Am I hearing a “this is meant for you” in this biblical text? Yes, I am.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). The immigrants among us, documented and not, seem to be crowding toward the front of the line of neighbors who call for my attention.

Reflection Question: What is God saying to you about immigrants and their needs?


Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 5
Malachi 1:14 — 2:2b, 8-10
Psalm 131: 1-3
1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
Matthew: 23:1-12

Servant love is the heart of missionary discipleship. We may teach the truth effectively, share the moral demands of the Gospel boldly, and partake in public and personal prayer with devotion. But without love, these count for nothing. This is the challenge of God’s word today.

St. Paul was a living example of servant love that inspires missionary discipleship. In today’s second reading, St. Paul recalls how he accompanied the Thessalonians with affection and selflessness. He speaks of proclaiming the Gospel, using the image of the gentleness of a mother’s love.

St. Paul lovingly proclaimed the word of God to this community. He gives thanks to Jesus for their faith in God’s word. Like us, those early Christians accepted the Gospel not as a human word but as the living word of God.

Similarly, the prophet Malachi calls the temple priests to faithfulness to God’s word. They will be held responsible for weakening the people’s faith.

Dominated for centuries by foreign powers, the Israelites tended to fall away from religious practice while assimilating into the cultures and religions of their rulers. The Pharisees developed a response to this tendency to religious indifference with their strict observance of the law.

They saw themselves as superior to others, on whom they looked with disdain and condemnation. This is perhaps why Jesus argues with the Pharisees over the inner meaning of God’s law in contrast to their legalistic and hypocritical approach to faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has some harsh words for the Pharisees as he sees beyond their pious, outward appearances. And the picture he paints is not pretty.

The Pharisees did not practice what they preached. They made things impossibly demanding for others without offering to help the overburdened. They sought their own glory and prestige, rather than the glory of God. They were full of themselves, lacking in true charity and compassion in dealing with others.

The Pharisees’ real error was blindness to faults. Their pride and self-centered ambition prevented them from seeing their need for inner conversion. They were consumed with their own supposed goodness, piety and excellence. But what good is piety and religious devotion if it does not make us humble, compassionate and loving?

Popular culture values outward appearances. Image is everything. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of one’s appearance. But if that becomes all we ever do, then we are on shaky ground. For what use is a good outward appearance without interior love?

“The greatest among you must be your servant” and “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12). Jesus presents these paradoxes even as he warns against the Pharisees’ example.

This is our challenge even today. To discover that servant love is more pleasing to God than self-love and self-promotion. Jesus’ servant love is the model for St. Paul, the saints of the church, and each of us as we strive to serve others in humility.

This is the path to genuine holiness and true human happiness. Servant love makes us authentic missionary disciples of Jesus who say together in faith, “Speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Quote: “We must never forget that true power, at every level, is service.” — Pope Francis

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