Welcome to all, our seniors, those of middle age, our young adults, our teenagers and the children! Today, reflecting on the readings that we have just heard, I am going to preach on the subject of walking in the love of God.
The First Reading that we have just heard from the Book of Exodus [Ex. 22:21-27] spoke of the loving relationship that the Israelites men should have towards those who were under-privileged. The responsibility was upon the men because in those days, they were the authority over the families. The under-privileged were the aliens (the immigrants), those who were forced to leave their homes because of circumstances such as wars, plagues or famines.
The Lord reminded the Israelites that once, they too were as aliens while living in Egypt. Now, their Laws commands them to be warm and helpful to those who are less fortunate as they once were less fortunate. These binding laws are found throughout the Old Testament. [Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 1:16, 10:17-9, 14:28-9, 16:11-4; Jer. 7:6]
As we heard during the reading, the Israelite men were reminded of their loving obligation to take care of the needs of the widows and the orphans. God wanted their needs to be taken care of by those who were more fortunate. The Israelites were reminded that if the widows and orphans were neglected or abused and their cries reached out to Heaven, God would hear them and His anger would punish the aggressors. Their families would suffer the same consequences, their wives becoming widows, their children becoming orphans.
Applying God's command to today, we can start by assessing the needs of those who live in countries that are torn by wars. As we are aware, in those countries, many men die during the battles, leaving their families without a husband and father. God expects us to help the widows and orphans who are victims of war. He expects us to share with them the wealth that we have in order to make their lives more comfortable.
The First Reading continued with the issue of granting loans to others. Based on what is said in the Books of Leviticus [25:35} and Deuteronomy [23:20-1], the Sacred Scripture refer to loans that were made to one's own people. When a loan was made to one's countrymen, no interest was to be expected in return. But, when a loan was granted to a foreigner, interest could be charged. That way, the nation increased its wealth from the interest that was charged to the immigrants and tourists.
The people were reminded that if they abused the ancient Law and the victims of this abuse cried out to God in prayer, He would hear their cries and He would no longer answer the prayers of those who abused the Law. They would be denied the blessings that they had received in the past.
Today, this law would be similar to a brother, a sister, a parent, a child or a relative asking for a loan. In love, the loan should be given with joy without asking anything in return. Spiritually speaking, this Law goes beyond the biological family. It would also apply to the spiritual family that we belong to, the Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. It would mean that when another Christian is in need, we should joyfully help him out without asking any interest in return. In love, we should lend or give from our hearts.
In the Second Reading, Paul reminded the Thessalonians [1 Thess. 1:5-10] of his living example among them for their sake so that they may grow in Christ. Paul's example is also the Lord's example. ("Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." [1 Cor. 11:1]) To fully live one's Christian life, it is necessary to "become imitators of God, as beloved children, to live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." [Eph. 5:1-2] The examples of St. Paul and many other Christians shined in the love of Christ so others may know the way of Christ. [1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7-9]
Paul acknowledged that through persecution, the Thessalonians persisted in their living faith, receiving the Word of God with joy that was inspired by the Holy Spirit so that they could become as living models to others who heard about them in Macedonia and Achaia. These are the communities where Paul was residing when the good news about the Thessalonians reached him. Joy in the faith during persecution is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and true imitation of Christ. [2 Cor. 4:10; 1 Pet. 2:21; Phil. 3:10] Here, we also perceive how salvation comes through suffering. [Mt. 24:9-25]
As was the custom in those days when addressing the Church in writing, Paul emphasized how the people had abandoned their idols to serve the true living God. The word idol in this case meant the false gods that did not exist [1 Cor. 8:4-5], their worship being related to demons. [1 Cor. 10:20] True conversion in the living faith means to completely depart from the worship of idols in order to give oneself wholeheartedly in the service of God. In a true conversion, the Christian lives the love of God, truly being the Christian that he claims to be.
While many claim to this day to be true Christians, are they? Are they living their faith in Christ by imitating the example of Christ or St. Paul? Do they have a living FAITH as in F A I T H or a living FATE as in F A T E? If Jesus was walking on earth today, would He spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on Casinos, Bingos, gambling, VLT's, liquor, drugs, accumulating unnecessary wealth, etc...?
Many, drowning in their personal wealth, when they give tithe on Sunday, they give such a small portion of their income that it consist of about 1% of 1% of 1%. What is a contribution of $ 5.00 a week when the family income is two to four thousands dollars per month. Is such meagre offering sufficient to support the Church, its utilities, the small salary of its minister, the foreign missionary work of the Diocese, the Church contributions to foreign lands that are torn by war, etc... What St. Paul was telling us in the Second Reading is that he did not find or hear that the Thessalonians were obsessed with the idols of this world, its wealth and its pleasures, as many are in the world today.
Paul continued by saying that it is by living one's faith in Christ that we are rescued from the justice of God that will befall the unrepentant sinners. We do not know when this justice will come... it could be near or at a distant future. But we must always be ready. We must always be in harmony with God. Otherwise, we risk being the object of the wrath of God.
During today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew, [Mt. 22:34-40] Jesus was asked by the Pharisees what was the greatest Commandment. This question was reasonable since like today, the Law of those days contained 613 different Commandments. 248 of them were favourable while 365 were things that should not be done. And, when considering these different Commandments, they all had degrees of excellence or sinfulness. This is no different than the Laws of today, theft under $2,000.00 or over $2,000.00, murder in first degree or by manslaughter, one crime being more serious than the other.
br> Jesus answered by saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, this is the first and most important Commandment. It summarizes the first four of the Ten Commandments given to Moses. [Ex. 20:1-11] Placing God first in one's life means walking in faith and in the love of God.
The second greatest Commandment is, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This Commandment summarizes the last six of the Ten Commandments given to Moses. [Ex. 2-:12-17] The second Commandment means that if we have the love of God within us, it should shine towards others. Love is meant to be shared, not to be selfishly kept to oneself.
Then Jesus said that on those two Commandments (Laws) hangs the Law and the Prophets. The words mean that in those two Commandments are found the entire revelation of the Old Testament. To have the love of God as Christ enjoyed it, our acts of love should be towards God first and then our neighbours. Our neighbours includes everyone, our families, our friends and even strangers. Our love for God must be greater than the love we have for our parents, our brothers and sisters, our spouse and even our children.
And the love that we have for our parents, our brothers and sisters, our spouse and our children should be equal to the love we have for everyone else because we are all one large Christian family through Jesus in the Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. If we discriminate towards one person within the Body of Christ, then we do not have the love of God in us.
If we break the second commandment by not loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, then we do not love God. We may say that we love God, but in reality, we do not love God. For as Jesus frequently said, what you do to others, you do to Him. If you give someone a drink of water, you are giving a drink of water to Jesus. If you dress the naked, you are giving clothing to Jesus. If you feed the hungry, you are feeding Jesus. Through the second commandment shines the first commandment. If you love others by your actions, you love God. Why else would you care about the others? It is because you love God and your actions are actions of love, love in Christ Jesus.
My brothers and sisters, I ask that you reflect on these words this week. If your heart identifies areas of weaknesses that need to be corrected, pray to the Holy Spirit that He may come to you to sanctify you in Christ by the grace of the Heavenly Father so you may be transformed in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the grace of God work abundantly in each and everyone of you.