Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Exodus provides this weekend with its first reading. In ancient Jewish tradition, Exodus came from Moses. Therefore, in a most special way, it is the very word of God, since Moses represented God and was the link between God and the chosen people.
Through Moses, God gave to the Hebrews directions for every aspect of their lives. This weekend’s reading from Exodus addresses certain very specific realities in life, such as the lending of money.
Primary in the Hebrew religion, from the beginning, was a respect for each person; a respect founded on the notion of God as creator and final governor of human lives. Every person has the right to be respected and treated justly. No one can be exploited or mistreated; not even strangers, not even enemies.
Of course, the details are important, but even more important is total human obedience to God and to God’s law.
For the second reading, the church presents a reading from Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians. In this epistle, the apostle Paul’s advice is firm. He urges obedience to God, without exception, compromise or qualification.
Paul offers his own devotion to the Lord as an example. Following Jesus brings joy, the Apostle insists. Bearing witness to Christ — evangelization, to use a theological term often appearing 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.
St. Matthew’s Gospel provides 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 constantly calling others to obey this law. Reducing any teaching to a summary is always a good educational technique.
Even so, good will cannot be assumed without any other possibility. After all, many Pharisees disliked Jesus and would have liked to discredit the Lord’s message if at all possible.
The Lord’s reply is obvious. It certainly is no departure from or repudiation of Jewish religious tradition, since it echoes ancient and fundamental Jewish belief.
More broadly, the Lord’s lesson is directly to the point. God is supreme. The true disciple must reach every decision with the standard of love for God, uncompromised and absolute, first in their minds. Practically speaking, true discipleship means active respect for every other person, since every human being is God’s treasured creation.
God’s law is supreme and a mandate to love others.
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 and a state of mind, a heartfelt, personal choice to recognize God’s supremacy. Christianity is more than lip service.
In reality, unfailingly, it means loving others as God loves them; caring for others, always resisting any effort to belittle or exploit others. So, First Thessalonians reminds Christians of the need to bear witness forever to God’s love and justice. The message is especially important today, in a world in which so many are used and abused, indeed even in advanced, “free” societies.
Face the facts. Free, advanced societies can be very guilty in offenses committed against God and against vulnerable people. Not only tyrannies are at fault.
Actually, people in free societies are even more responsible before God, since they truly can influence public policy and form the culture.
Christians in democracies not only have the opportunity, but in fact the duty, to show and ask for God’s love for all.
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