Sunday, October 26, 2014
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 22:34-40 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,35and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking,36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.38This is the greatest and the first commandment.39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Before we begin our Lectio, let us recall the process Matthew’s Gospel has followed and that has led to the passage we read today. The Pharisees and all those who consider Jesus a rebel and a dangerous preacher have been trying to destroy his credibility among the people. Hence, the questions or, more precisely, the tricky contrived to make him commit some mistake, or to affirm something that openly contradicts the Law. First, the chief priests and the elders question his authority to preach and act as he does (21:23-27). Jesus, in turn, asks them another question that disconcerts them, and so he does not answer their question either. They are, so to speak, “even.” Later on, the Pharisees, together with the Herodians, ask him about paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22). He escapes that snare swiftly; they feel “amazed” and leave him. Again, the Sadducees pose their own question, this time about the resurrection of the dead (22:23-33). After avoiding their trap, the people understand that they are in the presence of a real teacher and are “astonished” at his words. The last test, the one we read today, is posed by a “lawyer,” an expert in the Law, sent by the Pharisees (22:34-40). On this occasion, Jesus not only gives the right answer (we will see that later), but asks a question about the Messiah, David’s son (22:41-46). No one can give an answer, nor “from that day on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Jesus’s answer to the lawyer’s question goes directly to basics. I will not repeat what you can easily find in any commentary or encyclopaedia about the number of commandments, regulations and laws in the Jewish moral code. In a few words, it was so complex you would never know on which side of the Law you were standing. So, putting together two paragraphs from the Scriptures, Jesus dispels the tricky posed to him. Love is the answer, because God himself is love, and for a believer the whole realm of human life is under God’s watchful and loving gaze. Nor will I approach the meaning of “love” in its different senses. It is enough to see a couple of places where the word is used in the New Testament. When Jesus speaks about his “one commandment,” he does so after having washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20), and insists on understanding love as “service.” When, defining God as "love,” John in his first letter (3:11-17; 4:7-12, 16-21) underlines the deep link existing between the two dimensions, human and divine. In the parallel text in Luke’s Gospel (10:25-28), we find an extension of this episode. In this case, the scholar who asks the question about “eternal life” demands an explanation about who his neighbor is. Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37). In a lower key, and even if he does not mention “love” or “commandments,” James (1:27) also provides us with a simple definition of “true religion.” In a sense, Jesus’ teaching about the Law in Matthew’s Gospel comes to an end in a circular way. He started with the Beatitudes and continued with his explanation of the main commandments (chapters 5 to 7). Now, after answering those thorny questions, he has returned to his central and most traditional position: the Golden Rule. This “rule” is the summary of “the law and the prophets” (7:12) which he had come “not to abolish but to fulfill” (5:17).
We must admit that after twenty centuries of Christian history, most of the problems, questions and difficulties we have in our efforts to live by the teachings of the Gospel are nothing more than versions or variations of issues faced by the early Church, and even by those in Jesus’ time. In a sense, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Although the socio-political circumstances have changed, human nature is the same. The same Pharisaic mentality pervades our own Christian mind and we go on posing questions and problems that, in many cases, are the same tricky riddles used by Jesus’ enemies. Too often, our aim is not to find an honest, truthful answer, but to justify our own preconceived “solutions.” Let us think about ourselves and the way we pose moral problems in our lives. Is the Gospel, the “New Law,” our point of reference or do we recur to other resources (other people’s advice, official or quasi-official authorities)? As a Roman Catholic, you may imagine I am not inviting anyone to a ”free exam” of the Bible, but I think we all should be more cautious when dealing with principles and norms that are sometimes the result of traditions or routine and might, in fact, be alien to the approach of the Gospel. How often do we rely on traditions rather than on Jesus’ words? To what extent is our mentality closer to that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law rather than to the spirit of freedom that is ours as the children of God?
Pray for those subjected to the fears and anguish of following scrupulously norms and rules: that they may understand Jesus’ calling to confidence in God’s mercy and love, and may rid themselves of false and burdensome legal loads. Let us pray for ourselves: that the “commandment of love” may always be our guide and criterion in our Christian life and make us sensitive to respond faithfully to God’s demands, and to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
I invite you to read again the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Which were the legal priorities and what was the greatest commandment of the Law for each character? Then have a look at your own priorities and see where you put the greatest stress on the way you live the Gospel.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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Lectio Divina is a weekly framework for a faithful and respectful reading of the Bible, coordinated with the Catholic lectionary calendar.
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