The Radical Call of Our Lord to Love God and Love Our Neighbor
User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 25
Sunday, Oct. 25, is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40.
Several times in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus shows the apostles not only their calling but also the responsibilities that go along with discipleship. Among the more important of these is the treatment of one’s neighbor.
St. Peter asks how many times he must forgive. The Lord says as many as forever (Matthew 18:21-22). When the mother of Sts. James and John ask that her boys be given pride of place, Jesus tells them that the great shall be those who serve their neighbor as a slave (Matthew 20:20-28). Today, a lawyer sympathetic to the Pharisees and Sadducees asks Jesus a question about the Greatest Commandment. This is no trick question, as previous questions had been. They are testing to see if Jesus should be allowed to continue preaching in the Temple.
Our Lord responds with a quote from the Shema, the great Hebrew creed that teaches that God is one and that we must love him with all our heart, soul and mind. “This is the greatest and the first commandment,” says Jesus. However, he immediately provides the second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
This is no innovation. Just a couple chapters before today’s first reading from Exodus, Moses delivered the Ten Commandments. Then followed a series of laws to govern behavior for the people of God. The first reading says that, precisely because the people of Israel were wandering orphans in the desert, they “shall not molest or oppress an alien” or “wrong any widow or orphan,” for the Lord protects these poor. Care for our neighbor is constitutive to what it means to follow the one true God. And this connection is taught by Jesus today and so has been lived by saints from the beginning.
St. Basil the Great (d. 379) is known for his battles against heresy, but he was also a bishop. In Caesarea Mazaca a great famine had befallen the people. Basil immediately organized the Christian community to set up shelters for the sick and dying. Then he preached the following to his wealthy flock:
“Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.”
These are sobering words, but they strike at the radical call of Our Lord to love God and love our neighbor. By connecting part of the Shema to love of neighbor, Jesus makes clear that if we do not care for the orphan, the widow or the stranger we do not truly love God. Indeed, as we see at the end of this Gospel, he will judge us accordingly.
Omar Gutierrez is a
in the Archdiocese
of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and
co-founder of the