Reading I: Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm: 18: 2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to them, “You should love the Lord, your God,
with all of your heart,
with all of your soul,
and with all of your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
For the last several weeks, Jesus has talked about love and how it intertwines and goes in different directions in our lives. Now here is a question, and just think about it for a moment: “If you had over 600 laws to follow, which law is the most important?” This is a hard question. But Jesus just swims right through it.
“If you have love,” he says, “you will be able to keep all 600 laws.”
Then, when God presented the two tablets to Moses, we go from the 600 laws down to ten laws very quickly. Moses was given two tablets: one tablet was about our relationship with God, and the other tablet was about our relationship with each other.
So today Jesus says, “If you want to keep those ten laws, then here are the two you need to focus on.” The change is not in the law and the prophets, the change becomes the discipline on how we live out the teachings of our faith.
To put that into a practical situation: What if you were to build a new house this week and the house is to cost you two or three hundred thousand dollars but you choose to not put in any plumbing. You want to live like they used to live when you had an outhouse, a cistern, you pumped the water and brought it inside, and you heated the water on the stove. It wasn’t that long ago when that was the norm.
Then somebody says to you, “Well, go ahead. But I’ll never give you three hundred thousand for that house. I want to make sure that I have a house where there is a toilet, and showers, and water, and all the plumbing is there.”
Yes, life has changed and we still need our bodily functions taken care of whether they are in the house, or out of the house. Most of us today say, “We want the modern facilities in the house.”
So when it comes to love, Jesus is saying, “Everyone needs to have the outhouse. Everyone needs to have modern plumbing.” But the question is, how do you provide what is best for your neighbor? Do you want the same things for him? Remember the story of the Good Samaritan. That’s when you had to keep all the laws, and for those who knew the law, they just walked right by somebody that needed help because the law said they had to be pure to go into the Temple.
Jesus says, “Going into the Temple is very important. But you need to take care of your neighbor. That person is in need right now. The question is, do we follow the Good Samaritan’s example today?”
If I were to ask each one of you to write down on a sheet of paper the person, or the group of people, you find very hard to love — it’s not that you hate them, just hard to love — it might be those who are making millions of dollars — and then we have other people who can’t find a job. It might be the group that is trafficking young people from impoverished countries and using them for money. It might be the immigrants who are trying to settle in this country and can’t get across the border to enjoy the same freedom that you and I have.
You and I have that freedom because generations ago somebody came by boat from Germany, Poland, France, or some other country, settled here, and by their efforts gave us everything we have today. Why are we against somebody else who wants the same thing? The examples can go on forever. So, I am asking you, “Who is the group that upsets you the most? Who is the person or group who gets under your skin and you have difficulty seeing life from their viewpoint.”
Jesus says, “Probably, if you got to know that person or group — then you could challenge them, maybe you could change them, but more than likely, if you just loved them it would change their heart.” That is what Jesus is trying to get across to us.
Just imagine this man, a stranger, coming into church this morning. He has never been inside of a church and has no idea of what goes on here. You met this person at work and said, “I go to Blessed Sacrament Church.” So he found the address of Blessed Sacrament Church, found the church, and as he is walking in the door he asks himself, “Should I really go in? The people inside may not accept me. I’m from Mexico and I just have a card. I wasn’t born and raised here. I really don’t speak their language. Right now I’m out of work. Probably all those people in that church are citizens and right now I don’t have a job. Will I really fit in?”
That’s when Jesus says, “Open those doors and walk in, because if those people know the Gospel they have no choice but to welcome you.”
All of a sudden we begin to think, “Wow. It really wasn’t that hard. But on first thought I wasn’t right there at the starting line to welcome him. But now that I have done it I know that person and I am so happy he is here. And I want him to be part of this group of people.”
And Jesus says, “That’s how the spirit works. All it takes are those two commandments — love God, and love your neighbor. And if you have those two in your heart, you will be able to get through any situation and be able to walk through that situation and say, ‘I think I’m beginning to understand why they couldn’t trip up Jesus because he not only spoke the words of love, he lived the words of love.’ ”
So, this week, take these two laws into your neighborhoods and into your places of work.
I may have shared this story with you somewhere along the line. It’s about when I was teaching in high school. Many of you are teachers and know what it’s like when you have twenty kids in the class and nineteen are fantastic students — but one will push every button he or she can. “If I didn’t have that one student, man, this job would be a breeze.” But you can’t get rid of that one student.
I had one student, a young boy and he was a senior, and every day he came into class and wouldn’t say a word. He would go right for the corner, sit down, take the next desk and put his leg on it, and then look out the window. He never looked at me for a whole semester. I knew a little bit about his background and that it was not a good home life.
So I just let him be. The kids just let him be.
At the end the semester when I gave the students their exam, he handed his in and said,
“Father, I want to thank you for putting up with me when I would come to class and look out the window each day. I want you to know I listened to every word you said, and I just thank you for letting me be the person I am growing up to be.”
I could have made myself a miserable person, made that young boy miserable, and drove that kid right out of the church if I had let it bother me and harped at him during class. But I sensed that here was a student who simply could not participate in class at that time, and given his family background, was just at a loss with all of his classmates and with everyone.
So, let’s look at our own lives. Have you ever been in a situation where all you wanted was just to be loved, but for some reason people didn’t give you the chance to just be yourself?
Not everybody is a happy-go-lucky outgoing person. But inside each person is that kernel of love, and when it matures it will change the world.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.