Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thirtieth Sunday of Year A: Reflections- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Thirtieth Sunday of the Year: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Exod 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thess 1: 5c-10 and Matt 22:34-40

Love of God and Neighbors

This Semester I am teaching the “Pentateuch and the Historical Books” at Sacred Heart School of Theology, a Seminary located in Hales Corners, Milwaukee.  The  14 students in the Class, are very curious to know, to learn more about Jesus, his ethics of love and what he expects of us in these challenging times,  especially when  the “language of love” if not misunderstood, has also become the order of the day, sometimes in a very subjective manner. Thanks be to God, the Holy Father, Pope, Benedict XVI, in his Deus Caritas Est, shares with us the facts  of true love, namely since God has first loved us we are invited to respond  to this  love by sharing God’s generosity and his image with others.

Laws in the Ancient Israel, including the first reading of today, (the Covenant Code/laws in the Exodus 20:22–23:33; Holiness Code Lev 16–26 and the Deuteronomic Code/laws Deut 12–26) were constantly rewritten, updated, innovated and renewed to meet the needs of time and to highlight the image of a just, loving and liberating God who is always Holy, forgiving and full of compassion. 

These laws were also many and sometimes confusing, such that even the rabbis, went to inquire from Jesus which of them was the greatest, “love of God or love of neighbor.” Sometimes we don’t blame them. How many of us today still do not argue about  what our founding fathers said or the best way to interpret our existing constitution?

 Many would argue that the rabbis were testing Jesus. Many would also argue that the rabbis had limited knowledge of the true meaning of their “neighbor”.  I guess, either way we can always learn. Who are we to tempt God? Who are we to store or hide God’s love only for our benefits, and not to share it with other peoples of all walks of life?

Jesus does it so well today as he did with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-28. He updates the old law. He combines Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 to form a summary of the new law of God’s love and redefines our neighbors, to include people we do not like so much. We are to love them not superficially, but with all our hearts, souls and minds just as we would have loved God and ourselves.

Talking about ourselves, I have once come across a friend, a very selfish person. He thinks of himself in a very egoitistic manner before others. If there any food on the table- he takes the lion’s share.  Everything is about himself before others, very domineering in attitude. At every meeting, he talks from the beginning to the end. His ideas are the “best” in the world and no other one. He has the monopoly of the “truth.”  This is not what Jesus is talking about. We all know the limit of selfishness and greediness. The Lord wants us to be able to treat others just as we would expect others to treat us (Matt 7:12).

The poor, the orphans, the widows, the aliens, the strangers mentioned in the First Reading, Exodus must be seen as our neighbors. They must be treated as members of our families. The way we treat  those we meet on the way, (Seminary, Parish Communities, Residence Homes, UN Assembly etc) with care, love, respect, kindness, politeness, compassion even visiting with the sick, and the aged measures the amount of inner love we claim to have for God.

 It also indicates how much we respect and love ourselves. It mirrors our thinking, thought and planning processes and  demonstrates how far we are willing to serve and engage with our true and living God (1 Thess 1:5c-10), who has first loved us.