Today’s readings call us to love God and our neighbors.
In the first reading from Exodus, we read how God tells the Israelites to be welcoming and caring of others who are not of their own culture. “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourself in the land of Egypt.” In other words, you shall not harass others who come as strangers to your land because you too were strangers in the land of Egypt. This passage reminds the Israelites and us that we must be welcoming of others. We must never cheat them, charge them interest on loans, take from them. In a word; we must be charitable.
In American society, some political parties worry much about children crossing the borders as well as others. They even block buses carrying these children and call for their return. Ironically, these protesters call themselves “Bible Christians.” This first reading reminds us that this is now what we are supposed to do. While nations have a right and duty to protect its interests, including its borders; this does not mean they cannot help those in distress or the aliens who cross into their territory looking for help. If we truly believe in God and are Christians, then we must not “molest or oppress an alien; we must not wrong any widow or orphan, no charge interest against them or take their cloaks,” so to speak. We must welcome them and try our best to help them. As Americans, our ancestors most likely came from other lands and were not part of this land that makes up 50 states. The original dwellers of this land in many cases welcomed our European ancestors and showed them how to grow crops and so forth. We all know the story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans and how the natives helped the Europeans. Unfortunately, the land was taken from them and claimed for the many crowns of European societies. Not all land was acquired in this way, some actually bought it fair and square. Nevertheless, we must remember that our ancestors were strangers in this land as well and we should be more compassionate towards those who come into this nation seeking help. God will hear their cries as well. The reading repeats this twice showing how serious God is. He reminds the Israelites that others who are not of this culture are still His children and He hears their prayers. God is the God of all.
In the responsorial Psalm, we read how God is our strength. We love Him because of this. The Psalm tells us how God is our rock, our hero, our King and the one who cares for us. God is indeed these and more. He cares for us because we are His creation. God loves each one of us and wants nothing more than for us to be happy and fulfill the potential He has ordained for us. God is indeed our savior and the one who protects us and our interests.
St. Paul in the second readings tells us how the Thessalonians imitated him and his company in regards to how to be Christians. They received the Word of God in affliction due to its unpopularity, but were joyous upon receiving it because it comes from the Holy Spirit. St. Paul called the Thessalonians to be models for all other believers taking what they had learn from him and spreading it around. This passage reminds us that how we behave preaches more the Gospel of Christ than mere words. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.” He got this idea from this passage where St. Paul says, “For from you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth… but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” Our image and behavior brings others to Christ or away from Him. When we behave like Christians, others will see that our faith has merit, it works. It is not just collection of rules, but a way of life that brings peace, love and stability in one’s life. People want this in their own lives and will want to know “your secret,” so to speak. Our “secret” is no secret. We are joyous because of Jesus Christ! This is why it is extremely important that we behave as Christians. We must be welcoming of others, even those who hate us. We must be nice to people, even those who are rude to us. Being nice does not mean that we are weak or “liberals.” We must not be the “Church of Nice” nor the “Church of Mean;” instead, we must be the Catholic Church of Christ. However, we must be careful that our display of Christianity is genuine and meant to preach the Gospel and not to bring adulation to ourselves (Matthew 6:5).
Finally, in the Gospel Jesus is once again tested by the teachers of the law. They ask Him, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” The Jews not only follow the 10 commandments but also 613 other laws in the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest in an attempt to trick Him into preaching heresy or going against Jewish teaching. As expected, Jesus answers the question in a way that does not sound heretical and is to the point. He answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Here Jesus makes it clear that all the commandments, including the 613 are summed up in these two commandments to love God with one’s whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. These words tie into the first reading where God called the Israelites to be loving and welcoming of others, reminding them that He too listens to those who are not Israelites. Unfortunately many times we get caught up in laws and rituals like the Pharisees and Sadducees. We become prisoners of our own rules and become rigid even to the point of criticizing the Pope, bishops and any attempt to present the teachings of the Church in a more welcoming and positive light. This is why Pope Francis has been stressing that we must not become this way. Not everyone is going to be a practicing Catholic. Let us be realistic. We live in a world with all kinds of people with all kinds of different lives. Many of them will refuse to turn away from those lives. Our Catholic faith does not call us to shun these people or ostracize them. Like in the first reading, we must be welcoming of the alien. Laws, rubrics, canons and teachings were made to serve us not us serve them (Mark 2:27). As Pope Francis said, we must be open to the “God of surprises.”
In his statement to the recent synod, the Pope said it extremely well. We can see the Holy Spirit was truly speaking through him. He wrote:
” – One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
– The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…”
We must not be tempted into becoming rigid and closed within our own beliefs. Instead we must welcome the alien and care for him or her. This care must not be a pseudo form of mercy that disregards our faith and the teachings of the Church. It must be merciful but also careful to attend to the wounds in the person which is caused by sin. We must not use our bread as stone to smash the heads of others. In other words, we must not use our faith, the teachings of the Church, especially the Sacraments as tools to oppress or shame others, especially those in deep sin. We must also never be so welcoming that we do not address the sin of those we welcome. Like Christ, we must not condemn those addicted to sin, but must remind them to “sin no more” (John 8:11).
Above all, we must love God with all of our being. This means that every second, every breath we have must be in honor and glory of God. We exist because of God. We owe all to God. God is so awesome that He gives us the free will to love Him or hate Him. He does not force anyone to love Him like some manic lover seeking attention. Loving God allows us to love others as ourselves because we are all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Let us love God and one another.