What is the measure of a person? From a Biblical perspective, it’s how you treat others. In fact, the Scriptures are quite consistent on this point. From the Mosaic Law Code in Exodus, to the teachings of the prophets, to the parables of Jesus, to the teachings of Paul and the Apostles, we are constantly reminded about how a God-loving people are expected to act toward one another. Our readings for this coming Sunday provide us the best examples of this most important teaching:
The Word for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
We open with a reading from the book of Exodus. When we think of the Exodus, we always remember the Ten Commandments, but we tend to forget that these Ten are just the beginning of the Law Code. Just as with the preamble to the Constitution for the US, there’s a whole lot more that follows, providing the nuts-and-bolts (the context and applications) of how this new Covenant with God is going to work. The Ten Commandments can be found at the very beginning of Chapter 20, but the Law Code continues all the way through Chapter 23.
Our passage from Exodus for this Sunday is perhaps even more important than the Ten Commandments because it establishes how the law is to be applied, and it does this through a most effective means… by reminding the Israelites that they themselves were the beneficiaries of God’s compassion. It explains how the Israelites are expected to treat those who are most venerable… widows, orphans, aliens (foreigners), and the poor. To use a modern legal term, it gives definition to a “protected class, ” a class that the Israelites themselves were a part of, and a class deserving of the same compassion that God provided to the Israelites when he heard them “cry out” for deliverance.
Our second reading, continuing our study of the letter from St. Paul to the Thessalonians, also touches on the subject of how to act toward one another. Paul’s teaching is simple… just do what we do. The Thessalonians were concerned about what was considered proper behavior for the members of the community. Instead of going into a lot of detail, he tells them simply to become “imitators of us and the Lord.” Put another way, “we learn by doing.”
“Which commandment in the Law is greatest?” This is the question the Pharisees posed to Jesus in our Gospel for this week. After he slammed the Sadducees along with the chief priests and elders (in our previous weeks Gospels), the Pharisees and the Scribes (literally, “scholars of the Law”) pose this as a test to Jesus, not only of his knowledge of the Law, but depending on how he answered, hoped to trap him in debate in an effort to discredit his teaching. Instead, Jesus, the master of getting to the point, gives us the Two Great Commandments (what we also call The Golden Rule). The beauty here is how Jesus was able to summarize all of the Law Code down to its core elements… Love God, Love your neighbor. These building blocks not only summarize the Law, but also allow us to argue the Law (in fine Jewish tradition) from a new perspective... In other words, giving deference to the Spirit of the Law, not just the Letter of the Law. And reminding us that our “neighbor” includes everyone else other than ourselves, including those in that “protected class” from Exodus.
There are those that believe religious teaching is essentially black and white… “this” is right what “that” is wrong. But if we’ve learned anything in our journey of discovery through the Catholic Faith, it’s that nothing is that simple. Nothing is black and white. Our faith is not lived in a vacuum, but rather is both of and in the world. But using these Two Great Commandments as our guide, we can navigate our way toward the light.