Sunday Sermon for July 10, 2016, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Dt 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37
In the Gospel reading today a scholar in the Law comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Our Lord answers by asking how the man understands what is written in the Law. He responds by reciting the two commandments that encapsulate everything in the Law: to love God with one’s whole heart, and soul, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor.
After our Lord tells him that if he lives by these commands he will have eternal life, the man presses onward in his questioning wanting to justify himself in the sight of our Lord and the others who were with Him. He asks who his neighbor is. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan. Of course, Samaritans were not people who were looked on in a positive manner by the Jewish people of the time. This fact drove home the point about charity toward others, not just among family members and friends, not even just toward those who agree with you or share the same faith; it includes everyone.
As we have been assaulted with another campaign season for the past number of months, we have had the opportunity to see the immense divisions among the people in America. While it is incumbent upon us all to vote for the best candidate, the greater question is whether we can bridge the gap and be charitable to people on the other side.
We have all heard, thousands of times, this teaching of Jesus regarding the two greatest commandments. I am quite certain that if someone asked any of us what the greatest commandments in the Law are we would all be able to repeat them without hesitation. While this is certainly commendable, there other part of the question is whether or not we are living according to these commandments.
In the first reading Moses spoke to the people of Israel and said “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord and keep His commandments and statutes…” While there were not originally very many commandments that the people had to follow, there eventually came to be 613 precepts contained in the Law. All of these Jesus reduced to two. In fact, as we see in the answer of this legal scholar in the Gospel, the Jewish people also realized that all of the commandments could be reduced to two.
The difference between the traditional Jewish understanding of these laws and the way they were presented by our Lord has to do with the scope of the charity. This difference for us is not something theoretical or intellectual; rather, it is based on who we are as members of Jesus Christ.
In the second reading St. Paul reminds us that all things were created in Him. He is before all things and He holds all things together in Himself. Then, when He took on a created nature so that He could die, He became the firstborn from the dead so that He would be preeminent in all things. He is the head of the body and all things are reconciled in Him.
In other words, He is God who created all people in His own image and likeness. He loves everyone He created, but He chose some people to be members of His Mystical Body. That we have been so chosen should not be a cause for pride, but for wonder. Why would He choose the likes of me? He chose you and me because we had the greatest need. As St. Paul would say, he chose us because we are weak, lowly, and nothing.
That being the case, how is it possible that we would look down on someone else or fail to treat another person with charity? When we see the kindness and mercy God has shown us, should we not show that same kind of charity toward others? It does not matter what color their skin is, what country they came from, or what language they speak. In this matter, what religion they profess is not even important. Neither does it matter if they do not recognize or respect their own dignity; what matters is that we recognize their dignity and treat them accordingly.
This is not suggesting that you like the person or agree with the person; you can and, sometimes, must disagree with people, but it can be done respectfully. Most importantly, because we are members of Jesus, we have to see these people as He sees them: persons made in His image and made to be loved. Like us, they will have to face Him on Judgment day, so we do not have to judge them; we need only to love them. If only we would heed the voice of the Lord our God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.