Imitating the Love of God!: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Sermon and Christian Act In The Word
Theme: Imitating the Love of God! The call to love God and the neighbour!
Point of Reflection: who do I imitate? The liturgy of today resounds with the theme of imitation. In the first reading, the Israelites were to imitate God in his care for the most vulnerable, this command was given in the context of the Sinai covenant. For St Paul in the second reading, imitation of Christ was the way of his life, and the purpose of his mission. Making his Christians “imitators of the Lord” was his chief goal and ambition for he knew that this would guarantee the authenticity of their Christian faith. While in the gospel, Jesus taught that human life and attitudes should be guided by a single principle of love and devotion to God, which is then reflected and imitated in love and concern for the other. He himself followed this principle faithfully.
In the end, todays’ liturgy of the Word teaches that the life of a Christian is the life of imitation of God and Jesus in their love and concern for humanity.
And God is, according to the Psalmist, “my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
First Reading: Exodus 22:20–26
Psalm: Psalm 18:2–4, 47, 51
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5–10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34–40
Sermon (Reflection): The Scriptural readings of the thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary time cite several well-known and important commandments. However, the readings focus not on making the commandments known, but on providing solid motivation for people to obey them. This motivation takes the form of the call to imitation.
The first reading of today from the book of Exodus is a part of so the so-called “Covenant Code” contained in Exodus 20:22–23:19. This code contains God’s laws delivered through Moses when the Sinai covenant was made. These laws provide key guidelines for the religious and civil life of Israel, which the nation needed to follow, in order to live as God’s people. One of key areas of life these laws regulate, is the treatment of the socially disadvantaged: resident aliens (foreigners), widows and orphans, and the poor. This was to imitate God and live Godly life.
The foreigners residing within the Israelite community did not have same rights and status as the Israelites, which made them vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and abuse, which the covenant code forbade. The reason and motivation given for the law forbidding oppression was the memory of Israel’s time as “aliens in the land of Egypt”. When there, they were protected by God. Now, it is their turn to be protectors of the foreigners among them, and imitate God by doing so. In our countries do we protect foreigners? Mind you! We are all foreigners here on earth.
The second group to be protected were “widows and orphans”. These were very vulnerable in this ancient patriarchal society, because they could not rely on the necessary protection of male guardians – husbands and fathers. The covenant code, therefore, entrusted the entire community with the task of caring for them. As Christians, are we protecting the widows and the orphans, or are we the ones victimising them?
The third group to be protected were “the poor among you”. These were to be afforded protection through the rigorous upholding of their economic rights. The passage concludes with a forceful affirmation that God pays special attention to the needy, and that they must be shown compassion in imitation of God, who himself is compassionate.
As Christians, are we protecting the poor? Are we compassionate? As Christians, we need to protect the poor and be compassionate, thus, imitating the love of God.
The second reading of today comes from the introduction to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. After praising the virtues of his addressees and their receptiveness to the Gospel, the apostle adds some significant statements regarding the foundation of the community and the manner in which his message of the gospel came to them. Paul first recalls the essential activity of the Holy Spirit involved in the proclamation and reception of the Good News as the message came to them “in the power and in the Holy Spirit”, and they “received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit”.
Next, the apostle pinpoints the main effect of this evangelisation stating that, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord”, and thus “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia”. This is an important statement because Paul considered himself an imitator of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1). Since making someone into a follower and imitator of Christ is the purpose of evangelization, and the Thessalonians became imitators of Christ, then Paul’s mission was thoroughly successful. That those former gentiles turned “from idols” and now “serve a living and true God” provides a very clear evidence of that success. Their new allegiance to God would guide them in this earthly life, and preserve them also at the final judgment to which Paul refers as the “wrath that is coming”.
The Gospel reading of today contains the third dispute between Jesus and his opponents recorded in Matthew chapter 22. Just as during the two earlier confrontations, the intention of Jesus’ opponents was “to test him”. The challenge came from a group of the Pharisees challenging Jesus to identify “the greatest of the commandments in the law”. Jewish scholars and teachers of that time intensely debated the hierarchy among the numerous commandments and prescriptions of the Jewish law, arguing about their relative importance (cf. Matthew 5:19; 23:23). Jesus accepted the challenge and gave his characteristically concise and definitive answer.
First, Jesus quoted the famous “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which was a daily recited by every Jew, and containing a command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”. These words confirm the absolute centrality of God in the life of his people and in all their affairs. No Jew would ever argue against this being the first and the most important commandment. The second part of Jesus’ answer draws on Leviticus 19:18, which demands of each Israelite to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Most significant in Jesus’ answer is his choice to pair the love of God with love of the neighbour. This pairing implies that love for the neighbour ought to mirror one’s love for God (cf. 1 John 4:20-21).
In effect, Jesus demands that a person’s relationship with God should be reflected in and imitated by the relationship to a fellow woman or man.
The love for God and for one’s neighbour thus become the basic rule to guide the life of the faithful, with the latter as a reflection of the former.
Christian Act in Word of God “Imitate God by loving each other”
At the heart of Jesus Christ call to love one’s neighbour is an invitation to imitate God. In the last phrase of the first reading, God speaks of himself, saying: “I am compassionate”. Yes, God is always present to take care of us in our weakest moments. Created in the image and likeness of God, we are called upon to reflect this character of God in our dealings with one another. We cannot claim to imitate God when we turn a deaf ear to the cry of those that he brings into our lives. We need to love God and one another.
However, love of one’s neighbour takes on a deeper Christian character when it is extended even to one’s enemies. Hatred has escalated to unimaginable depths in many parts of our world, leading to war and bloodshed. An unpleasant consequence of war is the upsurge in the numbers of migrants and refugees worldwide. Indeed, how true is the saying that “love gathers but hatred scatters”. Interestingly, many of these wars are fueled by people who claim to be devotees of God. Even in communities that have the adjective, “Christian” to qualify them, there are reported cases of ethnocentrism, xenophobic attacks, racism and other forms of human abuse. In this context, today’s readings bring a powerful reminder that a true believer imitates God, which translates into love and care for others.
Love is like fire. It may appear to be a tiny spark in the heart, but it can set a world ablaze if it is shown through actions.
A sure sign that we love God with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our mind is how we lovingly treat one another. In and through us the love of God must become experiential. Let us, therefore, choose to love and thereby imitate the God of love.
Action: I will imitate God to love each person I meet and to love God.
Prayer: O Loving Father, you showed your love for humanity when you offered your Son to a vulnerable world and that we imitate the life of your son Jesus Christ. May we imitate your love for your creation. By that singular act of grace, instil in us the spirit of loving each other. As human beings, we need love and harmony among ourselves. We ask this through your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.
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