30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 22:21-27, Psalm 18, 1 Thes 1:5c-10, Mt 22:34-40
Jesus responds to the man asking him what is the greatest commandment with a reference to the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. Going on to say that the first commandment is love of God and the second is, like it, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. The church pairs this gospel with words from Exodus reminding us not to molest the alien for you yourselves were once aliens in the land of Egypt.
This timeless teaching on love gives us pause as we pray for our sisters and brothers in Gaza and the Holy Land, in the Ukraine and any places where the human family is facing tension and violence. To love God entails loving neighbor and loving self. All this takes us to a consideration of whom God loves and what it means for us to say I love God. Remember the words of Jesus to the English mystic Margery Kemp: “More pleasing to me than all your prayers, all your penances, and all your good works … is that you would believe that I love you.” Once we believe God loves us, it changes our sense of self and the dynamic of each relationship we have with every other person.
Thomas Merton defined Original Sin as “our need to know how we’re doing,” which makes our relationship with God a kind of scorecard. The so-called spiritual life often turns us away from the mystery of God’s love and focuses on our own measurable “spiritual achievements” so we can feel we’re “on good terms” with God. Let’s all admit we are quite easily distracted from the truth of God’s unwavering love for each person God has brought into existence.
Jesus is drawing those in the gospel and us to reflect on the important truth that if I have a relationship with God and every other person has a relationship with God, the manner in which we conduct ourselves in every aspect of life, is changed. Teresa of Avila said to God: “I don’t love you and I don’t want to love you, but I want to want to love you!” As much as we like the nice part of the words love God with all your heart, soul and mind, when we are honest with ourselves this is challenging, demanding, unsettling, and difficult. Yet life is somehow so much less when we neglect to love God and pursue shortcuts in fulfilling this essential part of life.
Ask any of us responding to this call to be a monk who is always focused on being loved by God and loving God, and we will honestly tell you that the distractions come, the projects pile up and the tangle of day-to-day stuff brings us to realize we must be very deliberate and choose the relationship with God again and again. The blessing of monastic life is that it affords us a means, an environment, to give that our very best shot.
Every follower of Christ receives these readings today with gratitude and wonder, asking God to help us love him with our whole heart, mind and soul and with the understanding that this entails loving all those whom God loves including ourselves. As today’s reading from the first letter to the Thessalonians reminds us ‘you have turned from idols to serve a living God’. Monastic living – to live in faith – is a commitment to always turn to God.