POPE FRANCIS’ REFLECTION ON THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
Sunday, 25 October 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s Gospel passage (cf. Mt 22:34-40), a doctor of the Law asks Jesus “which is the great commandment” (v. 36), that is, the principal commandment of all divine Law. Jesus simply answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (v. 37). And he immediately adds: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39).
Jesus’ response once again takes up and joins two fundamental precepts, which God gave his people through Moses (cf. Dt 6:5; Lv 19:18). And thus he overcomes the snare that is laid for him in order “to test him” (Mt 22:35). His questioner, in fact, tries to draw him into the dispute among the experts of the Law regarding the hierarchy of the prescriptions. But Jesus establishes two essential principles for believers of all times two essential principles of our life. The first is that moral and religious life cannot be reduced to an anxious and forced obedience. There are people who seek to fulfil the commandments in an anxious or forced manner, and Jesus helps us understand that moral and religious life cannot be reduced to anxious or forced obedience, but must have love as its precept. The second principle is that love must tend together and inseparably toward God and toward neighbour. This is one of Jesus’ primary innovations and it helps us understand that what is not expressed in love of neighbour is not true love of God; and, likewise, what is not drawn from one’s relationship with God is not true love of neighbour.
Jesus concludes his response with these words: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (v. 40). This means that all the precepts the Lord has given to his people must be related to love of God and neighbour.
In fact, all the commandments serve to implement, to express that twofold indivisible love. Love for God is expressed above all in prayer, particularly in adoration. We neglect the adoration of God a great deal. We recite the prayer of thanksgiving, the supplication to ask for something…, but we neglect adoration. Adoring God is precisely the heart of prayer. And love for neighbour, which is also called fraternal charity, consists in closeness, listening, sharing, caring for others. And so often we neglect to listen to others because it is boring or because it takes up our time, or [we neglect] to accompany them, to support them in their suffering, in their trials…. But we always find the time to gossip, always! We do not have time to console the afflicted, but so much time to gossip. Be careful!
The Apostle John writes: “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen ” (1 Jn 4:20). Thus, we see the unity of these two commandments.
In today’s Gospel passage, once again, Jesus helps us go to the living and gushing wellspring of Love. And this wellspring is God himself, to be loved completely in a communion that nothing and no one can break. A communion that is a gift to be requested each day, but also a personal commitment not to let our lives become enslaved by the idols of the world. And the proof of our journey of conversion and holiness always consists in love of neighbour. This is the test: if I say “I love God” and do not love my neighbour, it does not work. The verification that I love God is that I love my neighbour. As long as there is a brother or sister to whom we close our hearts, we will still be far from being disciples as Jesus asks us. But his divine mercy does not allow us to be discouraged, but rather calls us to begin anew each day to live the Gospel consistently.
May the intercession of Mary Most Holy open our hearts to welcome the “great commandment”, the twofold commandment of love, which contains all of God’s Law and on which our salvation depends.
29 October 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday [30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A], the Liturgy presents us with a brief, but very important Gospel passage (Mt 22:34-40). Matthew the Evangelist recounts that the Pharisees assemble in order to put Jesus to the test. One of them, a doctor of the Law, asks him this question: “Teacher, which one is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36). It is an insidious question, because more than 600 precepts are mentioned in the Law of Moses. How should the great commandment be distinguished among these? But Jesus responds without hesitation: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. And he adds: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37, 39).
This response of Jesus is not to be taken for granted, because, among the numerous precepts of the Hebrew Law, the most important were the 10 Commandments, communicated directly by God to Moses, as the conditions of the Covenant with the people. But Jesus wants to make it understood that without love for God and for our neighbour there is no true fidelity to this Covenant with the Lord. You may do many good things, fulfil many precepts, many good things, but if you do not have love, this serves no purpose.
It is confirmed by another text in the Book of Exodus, the so-called “Covenant Code”, where it is said that one cannot adhere to the Covenant with the Lord and mistreat those who enjoy his protection. And who are those who enjoy his protection? The Bible says: the widow, the orphan and the stranger, the migrant, that is, the most lonely and defenseless people (cf. Ex 22:20-21). In responding to those Pharisees who question him, Jesus also tries to help them put their religiosity in order, to distinguish what truly matters from what is less important. Jesus says: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:40). They are the most important, and the others depend on these two. And Jesus lived his life precisely in this way: preaching and practising what truly matters and is essential, namely, love. Love gives impulse and fruitfulness to life and to the journey of life: without love, both life and faith remain sterile.
What Jesus proposes in this Gospel passage is a wonderful ideal, which corresponds to our heart’s most authentic desire. Indeed, we were created to love and to be loved. God, who is Love, created us to make us participants in his life, to be loved by him and to love him, and with him, to love all other people. This is God’s “dream” for mankind. And to accomplish it we need his grace; we need to receive within us the capacity to love which comes from God himself. Jesus offers himself to us in the Eucharist for this very reason. In it we receive Jesus in the utmost expression of his love, when he offered himself to the Father for our salvation.
May the Blessed Virgin help us to welcome into our life the “great commandment” of love of God and neighbour. Indeed, if we have experienced it ever since we were children, we will never cease converting ourselves to it and putting it into practice in the various situations in which we find ourselves.
26 October 2014
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
Today’s Gospel Reading reminds us that the whole of Divine Law can be summed up in our love for God and neighbour. Matthew the Evangelist recounts that several Pharisees colluded to put Jesus to the test (cf. 22: 34-35). One of them, a doctor of the law, asked him this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (v. 36). Jesus, quoting the Book of Deuteronomy, answered: “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” (vv. 37-38). And he could have stopped there. Yet, Jesus adds something that was not asked by the doctor of the law. He says, in fact: “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39). And in this case too, Jesus does not invent the second commandment, but takes it from the Book of Leviticus. The novelty is in his placing these two commandments together — love for God and love for neighbour — revealing that they are in fact inseparable and complementary, two sides of the same coin. You cannot love God without loving your neighbour and you cannot love your neighbour without loving God. Pope Benedict gave us a beautiful commentary on this topic in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (nn. 16-18).
In effect, the visible sign a Christian can show in order to witness to his love for God to the world and to others, to his family, is the love he bears for his brothers. The Commandment to love God and neighbour is the first, not because it is at the top of the list of Commandments. Jesus does not place it at the pinnacle but at the centre, because it is from the heart that everything must go out and to which everything must return and refer.
In the Old Testament, the requirement to be holy, in the image of God who is holy, included the duty to care for the most vulnerable people, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Ex 22:20-26). Jesus brings this Covenant law to fulfilment; He who unites in himself, in his flesh, divinity and humanity, a single mystery of love.
Now, in the light of this Word of Jesus, love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can no longer separate a religious life, a pious life, from service to brothers and sisters, to the real brothers and sisters that we encounter. We can no longer divide prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from listening to the other, closeness to his life, especially to his wounds. Remember this: love is the measure of faith. How much do you love? Each one answer silently. How is your faith? My faith is as I love. And faith is the soul of love.
In the middle of the dense forest of rules and regulations — to the legalisms of past and present — Jesus makes an opening through which one can catch a glimpse of two faces: the face of the Father and the face of the brother. He does not give us two formulas or two precepts: there are no precepts nor formulas. He gives us two faces, actually only one real face, that of God reflected in many faces, because in the face of each brother, especially of the smallest, the most fragile, the defenseless and needy, there is God’s own image. And we must ask ourselves: when we meet one of these brothers, are we able to recognize the face of God in him? Are we able to do this?
In this way, Jesus offers to all the fundamental criteria on which to base one’s life. But, above all, He gave us the Holy Spirit, who allows us to love God and neighbour as He does, with a free and generous heart. With the intercession of Mary, our Mother, let us open ourselves to welcome this gift of love, to walk forever with this two-fold law, which really has only one facet: the law of love.