30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Exodus provides this weekend with its first reading. Exodus is among the first five books of the Bible, the books attributed to Moses, so in ancient Jewish tradition, Exodus came from Moses. Therefore, in a most special way, it was seen as the very word of God, since 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 certain very specific realities in life, such as the lending of money.
The details of course are important, but also important is the underlying spirit. 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 bitter consequences.
The lesson was basic for the Hebrew religion, stressing from the beginning respect for each person, because God as Creator is the creator of each person and the final governor of human lives.
For the second reading, the Church presents a reading from Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians. Again, Paul’s advice is firm. Follow Jesus. He offers his own devotion to the Lord as an example. Following Jesus brings joy, the Apostle insists. The epistle continues.
Bearing witness to Christ, evangelization to use a theological term employed 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, was an inspiration to many. Bearing witness to Christ is a service to others.
St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is a familiar, and beloved, text.
Often seen as an effort to trick Jesus, the question of the Pharisees in this story may have had a more pragmatic purpose. The Pharisees were teachers, constantly instructing others about the law of Moses, and always calling others to obey this law. Reducing any teaching to a good, succinct summary is always a good educational technique.
(Even so, good will cannot be assumed without any other possibility. After all, Jesus was not the favorite religious teacher for every Pharisee.)
Regardless, the Lord’s reply is obvious. It is not novel, or a departure from, or repudiation, of Jewish religious tradition. It echoes ancient and fundamental Jewish belief.
God is supreme. The true disciple must balance every decision against the standard of love for God. As God creates all and loves all, true discipleship necessarily means active respect for every other person.
In the words of Jesus, God’s law is one and inseparable. Love for the Father cannot be removed from love of others, and indeed all others. Every human being is God’s treasured creation.
True Christianity is more than an intellectual assent to certain theological propositions. While the creed of the Church is vital, Christianity means a way of life.
Pursuing the Christian way of life means more than lip service, more than an attitude of good will to others. It means a very conscious and determined life of caring for others and resisting any effort to belittle or exploit others. First Thessalonians reminds us Christians of the need to bear witness to God’s love and justice far and wide — as a service.
The message is especially important today, in a world in which so many are exploited, even in advanced, free societies. Free, advanced societies can be very guilty of offenses committed against God, and against vulnerable people. Well-meaning people in these free societies can fail, by not asserting influence on policy and customs, and by serene indifference to wrongs that be occurring all around them.
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