The Great Commandment resonates powerfully through this week’s readings.
First Reading — OT: Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
OT Response: Psalm 1
Second Reading — Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
As we continue to read through the Gospel according to Matthew, we hear another of the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. Last week they tried to discredit him with the people and the government; today they test his orthodoxy. Jesus answers their question in correct Jewish form and then counters with a question to them. This passage is leading toward the Christian belief that Jesus is more than a descendant of King David; he is the Son of God. Even in confrontation, the focus of Jesus is on love.
The first reading is a portion of the giving of the Law. In it, love and faithfulness toward God is to be expressed by love and care for human beings. This is the same principle that Jesus upholds in the Gospel reading.
In the second reading, Paul continues his greetings to the Thessalonian church, reminding them of his original visit to them and of his love and affection for them and of a ministry approved by God, free from impure motives or boasting, not seeking special treatment, but caring and gentle.
Love is so often rejected as a “strategy” for engaging others. There is never a shortage of opportunities to express the kind of authentic love that Jesus practiced.
Within our own homes and families, when we prioritize showing love, we discover deepened relationships, higher commitment levels, and the kind of self-giving serving of one another that enables us to navigate whatever conflicts may arise.
In our churches, when we make love the primary framework within which we engage each other, we find ourselves learning from one another, celebrating our differences and making space for the needs of others. In this environment, conflicts over style of music, times of worship, and ministry priorities become less important and are much easier to navigate. In addition, when love is the driver of our ministry, the surrounding community inevitably feels and notices the difference. Those who struggle financially are able to find support and dignity in the church. Those who seek God are welcomed, even though they may think or act differently. Those who find themselves in crisis discover a place of safety and comfort and help. This has always been how the Church should look, but unfortunately, we have too often allowed our fear to trump our love, and we have become a people who too easily shut others out, point fingers and pronounce judgment.
It is not our condemnation of others, nor our fear of them, that will bring the Kingdom of Heaven among us. Rather, it is our striving to live out the self-giving love of Christ that will bring life to those around us and those who share in our community. Somehow we know this, but fail to live it. Perhaps this week our worship can help us to let what we know become what we do.
In the Eucharist, we experience the dual nature of our own existence: related to God and yet human. We are not simply living at the human level but through baptism are bearers of divinity. In the mundane elements of common food and drink, we meet God. Likewise, in our lives, our human nature is permeated by God’s nature. This is the reason we can pray; this is the reason we are sent into the world to minister to others.
Our mission is to recognize the divine in ourselves and in others. In this way, we allow Christ’s self-giving love to flow through us and bring the Kingdom of Heaven among us.