Scripture: Lectionary 149, 30th Sunday A Cycle: Exodus 22:20-26. Psalm
18:2-3.3-4.47.51. I Thessalonians 1:5-10. Matthew 22:34-40
Words are important for our understanding of one another and for our own
limited way of communicating with God most often with words or sometimes
silently resting in the presence of the Lord and listening or waiting.
Today the words listen and love are the thread found in the readings. The
greatest expression of love in the Torah—the Bible of Jesus is “hesed”; it
means covenantal love which includes loving-kindness, compassion, mercy,
faithfulness and solidarity with God. The other word is “listen” which is
the virtue of Jesus’ doing the will of the Father and Israel’s most
important prayer, the Shem’a which means to listen, to obey, to understand,
to answer a prayer and to examine.
Jesus teaches us that the law of God, the prophets and everything in the
Bible that unites us to God can be reduced to one commandment: love of God
and love of neighbor. The whole 613 commandments are summed up by him in
this one commandment and one word “hesed.” To understand that word we need
to listen to God—that is what the sacred prayer means, “Listen, O Israel,
the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The ten words of
God (the commandments) repeat that introductory of Deuteronomy 6:4 which
then means that our openness to God and our receiving that word of God with
love is what makes the behaviors and prescriptions of the law so easily
fulfilled without any counting! Paul who wants the Thessalonians to model
his behavior in love and listening tells them that faith comes from hearing
which he will emphasize explicitly in Romans 10.
God who is all compassionate listens to everyone who calls out to him with
faith manifested in our prayer. The Psalms always are directed to God
through faith; God listens to the cry of the poor. Exodus is pointing out
who the neighbor is in words that are also symbolic and universal in their
application we make through the word of God. Those words are the alien, the
widow, and the orphan. Thus all are included in the commandment of
love—even the enemy, the marginal person, and the ones who no longer listen
or follow the ways of God. The widow represents those who have no one to
depend on; they have no relatives or persons who can help them. Their
status cries out to God who is their only Rock of safety. The orphan are
the youth who are so vulnerable, so abused, and exploited in today’s world
that Exodus cries out to us to do something about this even among those who
have abused the children under the name of religion.
Only when the fullness of love (“hesed” and “agape”) can bring us to
understand what Jesus is telling us about the greatest of the commandments.
Our spirituality and religiosity is empty and worthless if it does not have
the all encompassing and comprehensive love of God for the alien, the
widow, and the orphan. We are called to love God as Jesus and Paul teach
us to love with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Both neighbor and God
and self are involved in this trinity of “hesed” that is one under the
total self-giving of love (agape).
St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for following his example of love and
their listening to him and modeling themselves on that love he has shown
them. He is one with Jesus in telling us that “the greatest is love.” We
know that to listen to God demands our having turned 180 degrees to God
after having failed. This too is part of the listening and then
experiencing God’s love once again.
Jesus therefore has summed up the whole of the Bible by telling us that
love is the totality of the message of God expressed in our human words
like compassion, loving-kindness, mercy, total fidelity, and covenantal love
We need to take the words of Deuteronomy 6:4 as Jesus did and pray them
while listening to what they mean in reference to God, neighbor, and self
or alien, widow, and orphan. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is
one. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy might.” Amen.