Exodus 22: 20-26; I Thess 1: 5-10; Matthew 22: 34-40
One of the new television programs on this Fall is Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about this guy, Kevin, who experiences a meteor hitting the earth and something happens to him where a celestial being, an angel, comes to tell him that he is commissioned to help in saving the world. Now the town already thinks he’s a little crazy and has a shady history and so sees himself as inadequate for such a task. As you would expect it’s often not the people that he knows that he’s being called to “save” but rather the people that fall into his lap, the ones he doesn’t like, the ones he thinks are mean, the ones that have isolated themselves for one reason or another and have somehow been shunned. Needless to say, we can understand his plight and the challenge he faces, knowing that he can’t not accept even if he tries. He’s going to be called to love in a way that he never thought possible.
It’s easy to forget all of that and Israel’s history is proof of that. They too have been given the task to love in a deeper way after their experience in Egypt. In the first reading today we hear from the Book of Exodus a list of social norms that were expected of Israel. Very first that we hear today not to oppress the alien for they too were once in a foreign land. They knew what it was like to have the shoe on the other foot, facing fear and oppression. They knew what it was like to feel helpless and inadequate and they needed to be aware that they didn’t become the oppressor but rather see it as an opportunity to cooperate with God’s plan in “saving” the world. Many outsiders and people shunned will fall into their presence and they will be challenged over and over again as to how they will love, that as we hear in today’s gospel, it’s not simply about loving God but also neighbor, especially the neighbor we don’t choose.
Paul, too, will go onto to challenge the Thessalonians through the faithfulness of their God. He will go onto say to them in the next verses that their God is a God who is like a father who has great care for his children, always, no matter life’s circumstances. They too will be challenged to look at the way they are treating and accepting the downtrodden, the poor, the people that have been shunned, and like Israel, they’ll be challenged to live a life “worthy” of the love that has been freely given to them. It’s so easy to become about insiders and outsiders and about worshipping a God who’s somewhere out there, beyond the Earth, but that’s not the God that Paul speaks of and encounters. If they truly want to show love to God they must first learn to love their neighbor. Not live in fear, not cast people out, or somehow feel inadequate or unworthy of God’s love. It’s the challenge more than ever in our own world and society. There’s a lot of talk about God but our love of neighbor often lacks. We become comfortable in our own lives and our own worlds, unable to go to that place of inadequacy or uncomfortableness that keeps us from falling more deeply in love with God and neighbor.
That makes the Gospel today central to who we are. Of course, like the past weeks, it happens in the thick of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees. They’re waiting to trip him up on his words. Now the question asked was a pretty common question, but they’re asking for a motive that isn’t certainly rooted in love but rather fear. The other gospels typically have it occur in more pleasant situations but Matthew throws it in as Jesus approaches the Cross. They ask for the greatest commandment but he couldn’t settle on just one and gives two. For Jesus the two are so intertwined that they can’t be separated. Knowing the audience, we know the Pharisees and Sadducees were good at talking a good game but not necessarily living it. They can do all the God talk they wanted but they lived in fear, especially of those who they had been expected to watch out for. Like Israel, they have forgotten the love that had and has been given to them by this faithful God. Of course, like Kevin, they weren’t always in a place to accept that love and so the law become something to cling to. They could live with loving God but neighbor challenged them to step out of their own comfort zone and to grow into that love more deeply.
Like Kevin, as well as Israel and so many others, we often forget over time the challenge to living from that deeper place in ourselves. Over and over again he’s told he’s got to go within and seek a change of heart. More often than not he gets in the way, but when he could finally get out of the way, he learns to love the people he’d least expect to love. So often our fear, our own lack of awareness and feeling of inadequacy separate us from the other and then so with God. We hold ourselves back from experiencing and accepting that deeper love that God desires of us so we can then go out and love in a new way. The world needs no more hate and fear. It needs no more separation. We have plenty of that and quite frankly, we’re often comfortable with that. When we do, though, then we must be careful about how quickly and easily we claim our love of God. It’s easy to say it in words but a whole other challenge in our neighbor, especially the neighbor we haven’t chosen ourselves but has been given to us as gift in order to grow more deeply in love and to allow ourselves, like Kevin, to be used by God to “save” a fallen world.