July 6, 2016 // Uncategorized
Loving God … and others
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading for this weekend, is one of the first five books of the Bible, collectively called the Pentateuch, from the Greek word meaning “five.” These five books have been venerated for many years as containing the revelation of God to Moses: the greatest of all the ancient Hebrew prophets.
In this reading, Moses speaks to the people on God’s behalf. Moses speaks the word of God. He calls the people to obey God’s commandments, but, he is clear — no mere lip service or insincere motions, actually a masquerade of devotion, are sufficient. Again speaking for God, Moses summons the people to heartfelt, honest and total dedication to God. Obeying commandments then becomes a visible expression of a genuine attitude of the soul.
Also, Moses makes clear to the people that God, while almighty and invisible, and therefore neither human nor bound to the earth, is aware of human lives and is communicating with humans.
For its second reading this weekend, the Church presents a passage from the Epistle to the Colossians. Colossae was a relatively important city in the Roman Empire’s northern Mediterranean world. A Christian community had formed in Colossae, and its spiritual vitality was Paul’s concern that led to the writing of this epistle.
The reading builds on the revelation given centuries earlier by Moses and by other prophets: God is invisible. Mortals see God, however, in the Lord Jesus. Jesus lives and is real. Jesus rules over all creation and over all creatures. He is the head of the Church. Discipleship means accepting Jesus, but it also means uncompromising commitment to Jesus.
This community in Colossae, visible and alive with the very life of the Holy Spirit, was much, much more than a coincidental gathering of persons professing Jesus as Lord. In it lived the spirit of Jesus. Through Jesus, its people anticipated eternal life.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides a very basic concept of Christian theology. Jesus says that the true disciple must love God above all things and must love neighbor as self. At times, people assume that this admonition was uniquely New Testament. It was not. Ancient Judaism did not concern itself only with outward manifestations of obedience to God, and formal worship of God, without regard to the deep intentions of the heart.
Historic belief among Hebrews, as evidenced in this weekend’s first reading, also required a genuine commitment of the mind and heart to God.
This reading gives us the familiar, and beautiful, story of the Good Samaritan, affirming this long understanding of true dedication to God.
Important to understanding the story is in knowing the disdain in which Jews of the First Century AD held Samaritans. Jews at the time regarded Samaritans almost as incapable of holiness or goodness. Samaritans were back-sliders, traitors. Jesus clearly taught that virtue could be in a Samaritan. More broadly, the message was, and is, that anyone can love others, can be with God.
Over the years, American culture has advanced so that today Americans are much more alert to, and rejecting of, prejudice. Admittedly, as evidenced sadly every day by hate-filled actions and words, prejudice is not dead in this country. Remember the slaughter at the church in Charleston? Remember Orlando?
Nevertheless, the story of the Good Samaritan may lose its impact, as most Americans do not scorn people because of race or ethnic origin.
The story still is relevant. Anyone may be a Samaritan from time to time. Maybe sin has set us apart. Maybe something leads us away from goodness. We not only are all called to love God and to love others, but most critically, anyone can be a Samaritan in God’s love.
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