Read Exodus 22:20-26, Ps. 18:2-4,47,51, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Matthew 22:34-40
“If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn.” (Exodus 22:23-24)
Last Sunday, we saw how Jesus silenced the disciples of the Pharisees who came in the company of the Herodians to test Jesus and catch him in his words. The Sadducees also came to try their luck, and Jesus showed them how wrong they were in understanding the resurrection. It was at this point that a lawyer approached Jesus to ask him which was the greatest of all the commandments of God. In other words, the lawyer wanted to find out the basic requirements of God for our lives.
1. The Great Commandment is Love
In response to the lawyer’s question, Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). While the lawyer asked for the one great commandment, Jesus provided two. So, which of these two is the greatest and most important commandment?
St. John beautifully answered this question when he wrote: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20). In other words, to love God is to love our neighbours and it is only in loving our neighbours that we love God. If we say we know God, we should be able to see God in our neighbours. By the way, “Who is my neighbour?”
2. My Neighbour is Anyone who is Suffering
From the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus makes it very clear that “neighbour” is not the people who live close to us, nor is it those who speak our language nor attend the same Church with us. A “neighbour” is a human being in need. A neighbour is anyone who has no food, no water, no clothes, or no place to lay their head. A neighbour is anyone who is sick, poor, oppressed, brutalised or affected by the injustice in our land.
Jesus says: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:30-31). The rich man never imagined himself in the shoes of Lazarus. He saw Lazarus every day, but he pretended that Lazarus did not exist. The sad part is that the rich man had more than enough to waste; he was accustomed to throwing parties daily in his house but remained blind to Lazarus.
If that rich man were a Nigerian, he would be driving the latest car to church, not minding that even the headlights of his car alone can feed ten families in one month. In a country where many are dropping out of school because they cannot afford school fees, lawmakers purchase brand-new exotic cars from abroad at even twice their selling price. Even if they want cars, why not patronise local manufacturers to reduce the rate of unemployment? The same politician who campaigned with the slogan: “Let the Poor Breathe” suddenly became a tyrant ruling by the principle of “Let the Poor Die.”
To love our neighbours as ourselves is to imagine that we are the ones suffering; it is putting ourselves in their shoes so that we can help them just as we would wish to be helped. In other words, we must love ourselves first. One who does not love himself cannot love others.
3. Failure to Love Your Neighbour is Hatred towards God
On the day of judgement, we shall not only be punished for the sins we have committed but we shall also be punished for our refusal to help the poor and suffering. This is where our first reading today comes in. God warns us in severe terms of the gravity of being unjust and oppressive to those who are disadvantaged, those who have no one to care for them.
“If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:23-24). The book of Proverbs further drives home the point when it says: “He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13).
Meanwhile, the Psalmist declares: “Blessed is he who considers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; thou dost not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness, thou healest all his infirmities.” (Psalm 41:1-3)
4. God Allows Suffering in Our Lives to teach us Compassion
In today’s first reading, God instructs the people: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21). This statement answers the question: “Where is God when bad things happen?” God does not cease to be God when we experience pain, suffering and sorrow. God allowed the children of Israel to suffer slavery in the land of Egypt to teach them how not to treat their fellow human beings.
If you have ever suffered from something, it is not because God hates you. Rather, it is for the sake of others. You have suffered so that others will not suffer. You have suffered to teach others not to repeat the same mistakes you made. You have suffered to show others how to come out of that situation. Unite your pain with that of Jesus Christ on the Cross; this way, it becomes redemptive.
It will be very bad if, after you have suffered from something, you say that others must suffer as well. Recall that a few weeks ago, Jesus gave us a parable of a man who owed his master money, and because he could not pay, his master pardoned him, but this same man put his fellow servant in prison for a small debt. Many of us are like this man; we know we did not like what was done to us, yet we do worse to others. We are meant to be wounded healers and not the other way around.
If, after suffering from something, your heart is full of bitterness towards your oppressors, then you have become an oppressor yourself. After spending twenty-seven long years in Prison, Nelson Mandela wrote: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
5. Your Enemy is Also Your Neighbour
When Jesus says we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, he didn’t leave out our enemies. It is easy to love those who love you, but it is not so easy to love those who hate you. Yet, as St. John teaches us, as long as we hate, we cannot claim to love God. Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-47). Is there someone you are planning to hurt? Perhaps they deserve the pain you want to inflict upon them, but then, why not have a rethink? Why not show them kindness instead? The book of Proverbs teaches us that the best revenge for an enemy is kindness: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)
Conclusion: Open Your Eyes
We dare not claim that we love God if we do not love our neighbours. Visit the hospitals around you, visit the prisons, visit the orphanage homes – open your eyes – and you will agree that even if you don’t have all you wish for, there are many praying to be in your position. Wastefulness is a sin. Be a wounded healer. You have suffered, but ask yourself, “If I could turn back the hand of the clock, what would I have done better?” Some people are easy to love, but we must love even those who hate us – this is what it means to love God.
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, teach me to love you by loving my neighbours. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Exodus 22:20-26, Ps. 18:2-4,47,51, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Matthew 22:34-40).
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu