30th SUNDAY (A) OCTOBER 25, 2020
Exodus 22: 20-26 Psalm 18 I Thess 1: 5c-10 Matthew 22: 34-40
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I have a picture on my wall, a gift from a rabbi. It shows her blessing an unfurled scroll of the Torah. The scroll was old and tattered, so the community removed it from the tabernacle and from its beautiful cloth covering. They had it restored, but before putting it back into the tabernacle, they blessed and rededicated it. This is how they did it.
With the congregation assembled in the synagogue they unrolled the scroll and encircled the community with it – some members of the community, wearing white gloves, held the scroll, all the rest were inside the circle made by the unfurled scroll. The rabbi, dressed in liturgical robes and on the inside of the circle with the community, is shown in the process of rededicating the scroll before putting it back in the tabernacle. A member of the congregation said, "We couldn’t just put it away, after all it’s not an antique, a dead book. It’s the living Word of God." The community was also rededicated along with the scroll.
Another symbol, or sign of the Jewish community’s dedication to God’s Word, is also evident, closer to home – in fact, at the entrance to Jewish homes. It is the mezuzah, a cylinder that is placed on the doorpost of a home. It contains a scriptural quote. For example, the one Jesus quotes in part today, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord, our God, with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength" (Dt. 6:4). Where I grew up I used to see my Jewish neighbors kiss their fingers and then touch the mezuzah on entering and leaving their homes.
Such is the devotion to God’s Word by our Jewish sisters and brothers: to encircle a community of worshipers with the written word; to kiss it as they come and go each day from their homes. Of course the mazuzah is not a good luck charm, nor kissing it mere superstition, but an expression of their desire to live a life guided by and strengthened by God’s Word, as part of a community, in their homes and beyond.
When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus quoted the central commandment of Jewish faith, the one posted on the door frames. Then he takes another teaching, one among many more in the Old Testament, and places it alongside the first. Total love of God is the first commandment and joined to it, love of neighbor as yourself.
If a pagan were to ask a Jew, "Where is your image of God?" They would respond, "In God’s image we were made." I.e. "The image of our God is to be found in each human being." That’s what Jesus is implying in today’s gospel. How can we mere humans pay proper homage to an invisible God in our world, in our daily life? Jesus shows us how. He takes the command about loving God with all of ourselves and puts with it the love of neighbor. As Scripture suggests elsewhere: if you want to love the God you can not see, love the human you can see. Each of us is a dwelling place of God, "In God’s image we were made."
For a narrative preaching the preacher might pick a favorite saint, or one relevant to the local community and show how they were characterized by an intense love of God and neighbor. For example, one of our great Dominican Saints was Rose of Lima. She was born in Lima Peru in 1586 and her name was Isabel. But they called her Rose because of her extraordinary beauty. She was besieged by suitors. The parents hoped for a "good marriage;" a good financial arrangement, because they needed the money. Rose longed for the day when she could live for God alone. Her model was Catherine of Siena (another great woman Dominican). Catherine spent three years in her parent’s home under a staircase in constant prayer. Rose imitated Catherine, moved into a little hut in the garden and devoted herself to constant prayer. Remember, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind."
But like Catherine, Christ urged Rose out and she practiced works of mercy for the poor, the indigenous and slaves. In addition, she wasn’t just concerned about personal sin, but social sin; the Spanish had conquered and oppressed the natives. Rose had wanted to love God with all her heart, with all her soul with all her mind and she did that by devoting her heart, soul and mind to loving her neighbor. Just like us gathered in worship, Rose was encircled by the Word of God and it was as if she kissed that Word and was guided by it in her going to and coming from serving others.
I chose Rose of Lima, with a side reference to Catherine, not just because they were Dominicans, but to illustrate that the life of any saint puts flesh and blood on the teachings of Jesus. They show us what God’s grace can accomplish within us; that we mere humans are capable, with God – of loving God with all our heart, soul and mind – and our neighbor as our self.
The first reading from Exodus shows that God has always been especially concerned about the neediest in society. Today’s selection comes from a section in Exodus called the "Book of the Covenant," which is a teaching of social ethics based, not on laws, but on compassion. For those in most need, laws that prohibit certain acts are not enough to protect them.
Because the Israelites experienced God’s compassion when they were slaves in Egypt and as they traveled through the desert they, in turn, were to be compassionate to those in similar need. Their laws were to reflect the compassion they received. For example, they were to remember that they were once aliens in Egypt, so they were not to wrong the alien or stranger in their own land.
The media coverage of our own border situation these days has made us aware of the dire circumstances of those who have had to leave their homes because of poverty and violence to find refuge in our country. Strangers and immigrants in a strange land are vulnerable to abuse and being taken advantage of. They have left the support of their families, culture and familiar surroundings in an attempt to flee their homeland and find protection. In many ways they are like the Israelites in Egypt, strangers in a foreign land and totally dependent on the hospitality of its native people – us.
For more information and possible action go to the webpage of the United States Catholic Conference Perhaps our response to the Exodus teaching about compassion and Jesus’ summary of the commandments, could be to do as the bishops request – write to our representatives about our Church’s stance on immigration reform. Go to:
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/102520.cfm