30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A-Oct. 29, 2023

 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A-Oct. 29, 2023

Exodus 22: 20-26; 1Thessalonissians 1: 5c-10; Matthew 22: 34-40


Theme: Love Your God, Love Your Neighbor, And Love Yourself

Let us first recall the historical context of our Gospel story. Jesus has been facing a series of questions from the Jewish religious leaders who were looking for legal evidence to get him arrested and condemned. Everything started when they questioned Jesus’s authority (Matthew 21: 23-28) and in response, Jesus told them three parables in a row. These parables were: the parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21: 28-32) that we heard on Sunday, October 1st, the parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21: 33-43) that was the Gospel reading of Sunday, October 8th, and the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14) that we read on Sunday, October 15th. Through these parables, Jesus revealed to them that the kingdom of heaven was being taken away from them and being given to tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners because they failed to believe in him, but the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners welcomed the Gospel, believed in him, and repented. The reaction of these Jewish religious leaders was to get rid of Jesus whom they considered a threat to their power. Matthew lined up a series of trapping questions that they asked Jesus to embarrass him in public and get something legal to accuse him and have him condemned.  

The first question came from the unholy alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians regarding whether it was lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not. While their question was a trap, they were amazed by Jesus’ answer. He told them to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (That was the Gospel story of last Sunday. To know the theological interpretation of Jesus’s answer, please see my homily for that Sunday). Matthew ends this story by saying that they were amazed at hearing Jesus’s answer and left Jesus.

The second question was that of the Sadducees. (This story is omitted in the Lectionary of the Sunday Mass). Note that The Sadducees were part of the leadership in Jerusalem and Judea. They were members of the powerful priestly party in the time of Jesus. The Jewish population did not like them because they conspired with the Romans to maintain their positions of power. Theologically speaking, the Sadducees were known as conservative, and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They made up a story in which a woman, by Moses’s law, ended up marrying seven brothers because all of them died without giving her a child. Their question to Jesus was to find out whose wife this woman would be in the resurrection of the dead due to all seven brothers marrying her. Their intention was to make the belief in the resurrection of the dead ridiculous and consequently embarrass Jesus in public (Matthew 22: 24-28). Jesus rebuked them for knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. The sexual relationships of this world will be transcended as the risen body will be the work of the creative power of God (See note to Matthew 22: 29, NABRE). “At the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22: 30). And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22: 31-32). Matthew concludes this story the same way he did in the previous one by telling how the crowds were astonished at hearing Jesus’s answer.

The third question is that of the Pharisees regarding the Greatest Commandment. This is our Gospel passage of today. Note that, unlike the first trap in which the intention of the Pharisees and Herodians was to entrap Jesus in speech and obtain legal evidence to get him arrested and condemned, in the last two tests, their goal was to ridicule Jesus publicly to have the Jewish population disapprove him.

 The sacred author starts our passage by referring to the previous question of the Sadducees, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.” (V. 34, NABRE). This introductory verse shows that the Pharisees are aware that Jesus Has escaped their traps two times already. The first time was when Jesus amazed them with their alliant Herodians and the second time was when Jesus silenced the Sadducees. Keeping all these in mind, they came again to test Jesus for the third time. It appears to me that this time they have prepared themselves very well with a very complicated question in order not to fail again. That is why, they mandated an “expert in the law” to be the one to question Jesus (v. 35). The question is: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (V. 36, NABRE). The test resided in the level that for them there could not be one greatest commandment insofar as all laws were important. In his answer, Jesus has summarized all the laws into two: the first is “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (V. 37, NABRE). Here Jesus quoted the Jewish famous passage known as the shema (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5) which to this day is recited several times a day by pious Jews as the Christians recite the “Our Father’s prayer.” The second law is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here Jesus quoted the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus (Leviticus 19: 18).

Before I analyze these two laws, I think it is important to point out that it is wrong to think that by summarizing the Law with the two commandments of love Jesus somehow made the Law less challenging or demanding. We will understand that Jesus does not make it easier to fulfill the law; rather, he makes it more challenging because there are no excuses in love. It is very challenging to live out love for God and love for our neighbors perfectly.

Let us find out what Jesus means by his two commands of love. The first command says, “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. The stress is on the words “all”, “heart”, “soul”, and “mind”. The Greek word for heart is kardia; it can be understood as the seat of emotions or affections. So, when Jesus commands us to love God with all of our hearts, he asks us to cultivate our affection and emotional attachment to him. The “soul” is our spiritual nature. Then, to love God with all our souls means that we need to seek spiritual union with him, a personal relationship with God, and intentional discipleship. The “mind” (in Greek, dianoia) is an intellectual endeavor. So, loving God with all our minds challenges us to seek to know God, not only using our faith but also using our intellect. That is why we are all encouraged to attend my Weekly Bible Study on Sunday’s Gospels (Online and in-person every Friday at 5:00 p.m. Central time) to learn how God reveals himself to us in the Scriptures[1].  

The second command challenges us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This command alludes to what the sacred author of Exodus teaches us in our first reading. This reading comes from a larger section of the book of Exodus that Biblical scholars called the “Covenant Code” (Exodus 20: 22 – 23: 33) which contains a collection of case law, pronouncements, commands, and prohibitions. The passage that comes immediately before the Covenant Code talks about God’s appearance on Mount Sinai when he delivered the Ten Commandments. Because God’s appearance was accompanied by thunder, lightning, and smoke on the mountain, the Israelites became afraid to encounter God directly; so, they asked Moses to speak God’s commandments to them instead. That is why in our first reading passage, Moses plays the role of a mediator who speaks two of God’s Covenant laws to his people. Both commandments can be put into a category that today we might call “Social Justice Teaching’ or, to use Jesus’s language, “Love for our neighbor”.

The first command calls to “not oppress or afflict a resident alien (…) You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.” (Exodus 22: 20-21, NABRE). The Hebrew word for resident aliens is ger, which means stranger, temporary dweller, or sojourner. And note that in the Old Testament society, the resident aliens are regularly grouped with widows and orphans as the poorest and most vulnerable. God gave them one reason why they should not abuse the strangers: “For you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22: 20, NABRE). Then God told them about the punishment for those who would not follow that command, “My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword” (Exodus 22: 23, NABRE).

The second command deals with money lending. Note that in the context of the Old Testament, only the poor people used money lending because they did not have any other access to financial resources. And the lenders used to take advantage of them by overcharging them and demanding significant collateral. In the case of our first reading, the collateral is the cloak which represents the highest riches that poor people could have as it served as their bedding at night to protect themselves from the cold. So, God commanded them to not demand interest when they lend money to the poor and when they take their cloak as a pledge, they should give them back their cloaks before sunset so the poor could use them at bedtime (See Exodus 22: 24-26).

Notice how God identifies poor people: “My people” (v. 24) and “your neighbor” (v. 25). This teaches us that the poor are God’s people and are our neighbors. In the Biblical language, especially in the context of our Gospel passage, a neighbor is anyone (near or far away) who needs our assistance. So, when Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, he wants us to know that there are his people (near us and far away from us) who need our love materially, spiritually, and emotionally. The reason why we need to show love to our “resident aliens” or “neighbors” is because we too are “resident aliens” and “neighbors” in front of God and need God’s love. (Cf. Exodus 22: 20).

In this second commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”, there is a third love that many of us do not pay attention to when we analyze this passage. It is the “love for yourself”. The model for the love for our neighbors is the love for ourselves. One cannot love others if the person does not love himself or herself. To love oneself means to forgive oneself, reconcile with oneself, and give oneself a second chance. Once we are capable of loving ourselves, then we can do the same to our neighbors.

Jesus is the model of this love for us to imitate. He has loved his “neighbors” who are you and me. He continued to love us even to the cross when he sacrificed his life for our salvation. Saint Paul, in our second reading, speaks of himself as a model as well and he encouraged us to imitate him and the Lord Jesus. Note that this second reading is the second half of the Thanksgiving section of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, which we started reading last weekend.  This section contains the major themes of Paul’s letter. There are two of these themes in our second reading passage: “Imitation’ and “affliction”. So, here Saint Paul calls us to imitate him and the Lord Jesus with joy even in great affliction (Cf. v. 6). When we do so, we too will become models for our family members, church members, and other people in our neighborhoods and everywhere we live to imitate (Cf. v. 7).

So, amid the suffering and trials that we go through today, let us continue to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves with joy. May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to become models of love for others to imitate us. Amen.  

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

[1] In my Weekly Bible Study program, we study, share, and pray with the Gospel passage that we hear on Sunday of the same weekend. First, we study the Gospel passage to understand what the evangelist tried to teach his people at the time he wrote his passage. This analysis Is called “Exegesis”. Second, we try to know what our Mother Church wants to teach us today by selecting this Gospel passage for this weekend. This exercise is called “Pastoral Implication. After studying the Gospel, we now do the Lectio Divina. This is praying with the Scripture. We meditate on the Gospel passage, share with our peers what God speaks to us individually, and pray to God to give us his grace so that we can live out what he just taught us. If you are interested in joining us every Friday at 5:00 p.m. Central time, email me at ussbiblicalapostolate@gmail.com

Here is the Zoom link that you can use to participle to all sessions: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83645165259?pwd=9fXYojZSPWIViJm9iA1SOt6QQJnSHu.1


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