October 23, 2014

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ answers the Pharisees
(Click here for today’s readings

The Pharisees are at it again, putting Jesus to the test, but this time they seem to be off their game. They had to know what to expect. The answer was obvious. In fact, in Luke’s version of this episode, it is the Scribe, not Jesus, who gives this very answer.

Even the addition of the “Second Greatest Commandment” in Jesus’ reply could not have come as much of a surprise. Apparently this pairing may not have been rare among rabbis in Jesus’ day. Again, in Luke’s version, the Scribe himself includes it.

Note that neither the question nor the answer implies that other commandments could be neglected. All the commandments were to be observed with equal care. Jesus simply notes that the Two Great Commandments are the foundation for all the rest. The first reading illustrates this fact with unambiguous examples.

It is a curious fact that the Commandment to love God is given differently in the three Gospels that quote it. Here in Matthew, we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Mark has heart. soul, mind, and strength, while Luke changes the order to heart, soul, strength and mind.

Stranger still, none of these corresponds exactly to the original Hebrew. It reads: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” No mention of “mind” at all.

Scholars naturally have their theories to explain these variations. They are interesting but ultimately irrelevant. The insistent repetition of the word “all” makes it obvious that the commandment is meant to be all-inclusive.

The word “wrath” shows up in the first two readings. God’s wrath will flare up against those who wrong aliens, orphans and widows, or treat the poor unkindly. Jesus, writes St. Paul, will deliver us “from the coming wrath,” that is, the judgment, a theme Paul develops at greater length in his letter to the Romans.

What does wrath have to do with those who keep the Two Great Commandments? Living in love of God and neighbor, observing in sincerity the laws that depend on those two, becomes so natural that wrath is not even a speck on the horizon.

St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for their full commitment to the faith of Christ, since they turned from idols “to serve the living God.” The context makes it clear that they have not held back, but have become “a model for all believers.”

Would that this could be said of us!

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