The Greatest Commandment

Gospel Matthew 22:34-40

For today the 30th Sunday of the Year A, the theme is The Commandment of Love. Dear Friends, the stranger, the widow and the orphan have a special place in the heart of God.

A stranger is a new comer in a place or locality. He does not know anybody and therefore needs love and assistance. A widow is a woman who has lost her spouse by death and has not married again. In that case she has no support in life and therefore needs love and support. An orphan is a child whose parents are dead and has nobody to cater for his/her needs and therefore needs help. The poor are people who are lacking material possessions and who have to borrow in order to survive. They also need assistance.

In the First reading from the Book of Exodus, God through Moses tells the people of Israel that compassion and sympathy are to be shown in particular to the stranger, the widow, the orphan, as well as the poor. “If you are harsh with them, they will surely cry out to me, and be sure I shall hear their cry.” Furthermore, money lent to the poor should not attract interest. A garment taken as a pledge must be given back before sunset if that is all its owner has to cover himself with during the cold night. “If he cries to me, I will listen, for I am full of compassion,” says the Lord.

God cares for the foreigners, the widows and orphans and the poor. He defends them because of His merciful nature as God. Dear brothers and sisters, what God told the people of Israel through Moses several centuries ago, He tells us the same thing today. We still have foreigners, the widows, orphans and the poor in our midst. And what is our attitude towards them?

Foreigners/Aliens/Strangers – In our world today, many people are on the move because of various reasons. War or persecution forces some people to flee their homeland because of insecurity and they find themselves in foreign lands as refugees. Do we welcome them? These people are seekers of greener pastures. Some people are forced to migrate to foreign countries to look for opportunities in order to better their lives. An example is the Holy Family. What is our attitude towards them? Do we welcome them or are we apart of exploitation and xenophobic attacks? Nobody knows their future!

Widows –We have widows among us. What is our attitude towards them? Do we help them, especially our own relatives?

Orphans – We have orphans among us especially in our families. What is our attitude towards them? Do we help them?

The Poor and the Needy – We have them among us and what is our attitude towards them at a personal level? At the Parish level we can help but can we extend the list to drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless and the outcast? Just as the Lord is kind and merciful to the poor and the needy so must we.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes set three traps for Jesus to fall into:

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In Matthew 22:15-21, the Pharisees and the Herodians ask Jesus. In Matthew 22:23-33, the Sadducees question Him about the woman and the seven husbands, the nature of the Resurrection. Today, the Pharisees also ask Jesus a question – “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” The question looks simple but it is really not.

God through Moses had given the Jews the ten commandments and by the time Jesus came into the world, their religious leaders had multiplied them to about 613. Now, for a devout Jew, all the commandments were to be observed with equal care. Surely to single out one commandment might suggest that the other commandments are of lessor importance. This is probably the trap that the Pharisees hope Jesus might fall into. In response, Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter – Love, combining Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love of God and Leviticus 19:18 – Love of neighbour.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second resembles it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets are based on these two commandments. For Jesus, these two commandments are not only inseparable but are in fact one commandment. You cannot think about one without the other, they go hand in hand.

Dear Friends, today’s Liturgy teaches us the need to love God. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord’s will in all things and make it paramount in our loves. There are several means by which we can express our love for God and gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. We must keep God’s commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. We must also read His Word in the Bible and put it into practice. We must attend Holy Mass and worship and praise Him. Secondly we need to love our neighbour since every human being is a child of God. This means we have to help, support, encourage, forgive and pray for everyone without discrimination based on colour, race, gender, age, wealth or social status.

In the second reading, St Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Thessalonia, commends them for their good character and faith calling them ‘a model for all believers.’ They certainly understood the first and second greatest commandments. They chose to treat others with kindness.

Let us pray for the grace to emulate their good example. Amen.