HOMILY SUNDAY 30 – A
The Bible in One Sentence
(Exodus 22:21-27; Psalm 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40)
How would you summarize the whole Bible in just a few sentences?
Jesus does just that in the Gospel today, with his teaching to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
As we will see, that teaching we often call new is rooted in the Old Testament. The first reading from the Book of Exodus rings out with a clarion call for justice. God cares for the poor and the lowly, and so must God’s people. In fact, for the author of Exodus, justice is another word for love. Whereas a modern bumper sticker proclaims that if we want peace, we should work for justice, an Old Testament bumper sticker would read if we want to love, do justice.
Regarding the Gospel, both the commands Jesus shares in his reply to the Pharisees are from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to “Love God with all your heart, strength and mind” and Leviticus 19:18 to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is new in this teaching is that Jesus equates the two commandments taken from the Old Testament and gives the second equal weight to the first. This has no equal in other biblical literature. Love of others for Jesus is of equal importance as love for God. As Jesus tells the Pharisees, this commandment sums up the whole bible, all the teachings of the Law and the Prophets.
Paul even goes further in Romans 13:9 where he claims that one sentence alone, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, sums up the whole bible. For Paul, to love a neighbour is already to love God, for as Jesus put it, “to do something for the least of his brothers and sisters is to do it to him.” Or as Mother Theresa of Calcutta taught, what we would want to do for Jesus, whom we cannot we, we should do to our neighbour, whom we can see, and we will be doing it to Jesus.
In the second reading, which continues from the previous Sunday, the Thessalonians once again earn Paul’s praise for their faith in the living and true God and in Jesus for whom they wait. They responded with faith and joy to the Word of God preached by Paul. Again, they are to be contrasted to the scribes, the Pharisees and today to the Sadducees whom Jesus bested in a discussion.
Our challenge is to walk a balanced life and live both these commandments to the full, as did the Thessalonians. It is interesting that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous actually contains within its Twelve Steps a natural balance of the three components of the Great Command of Jesus – love of God (faith – Steps 2, 3, 7, 11), others (fellowship – Steps 5, 8, 9, 12) and ourselves (self-awareness – Steps 1, 4, 6, 10).
Mary Vogrinc, a 46-year old motivational speaker, was an exceptional example of someone who is living today’s readings. She and her husband have fostered 53 children and adopted two of them, in addition to raising three of their own biological children. She shares the story of one of the most difficult children they fostered, a teenager named Charlene. She had a history of abuse; her face was covered with a rash, and had terrible teeth. She and her brother proved to be a handful from the first. One night, she lost her tooth, and was told to put it under the pillow for the tooth fairy. When she discovered a dollar’s worth of change there in the morning, she could hardly believe that she could do what she wanted with the money, even buy candy. However, that day they went to church. When the collection basket came around, Charlene asked what that was for. Her foster parents told her that it was for those who were less fortunate than they were. They noted that she carefully put most of her change in the basket, kept only a dime and said, “I think I will just keep a little for myself.” Mary was moved to tears by this parable of the widow’s mite being lived out by her most difficult foster child.
The Eucharist is a living out of the Great Commandment. Certainly, we are loving God by our prayer and worship. We are also loving our neighbour by worshipping together in fellowship and sharing peace with others. And we are loving ourselves as we come to God for forgiveness, and by our lives of worship and praise, one of the highest actions we can do as human beings.
So, remember, to love God with our whole being, and to love others as we love ourselves, is to put into practice in our lives the teachings of the whole bible.