We live in a really fractured world right now. So much arguing and fighting, so much hatred toward each other and toward God. I believe our readings this week really speak to the times in which we live and to our own hearts.
So let’s consider our readings for this week. I’m going to be focusing most of my comments on the Old Testament text and the Gospel text but we will bring in the Epistle text as well. Our texts for today are:
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
When I first read through these texts, the concern for others immediately jumped off the page from the OT text. Let’s take a look at it. It’s interesting to me that the Exodus text starts out with a warning about sacrificing to other gods, then goes right into an admonition on how to treat the “stranger” among the people of Israel. What was God trying to say to them? It seems clear that He was tying proper worship and faith in Himself directly to how the Israelites treated others. In fact, He says to them in latter half of verse 22, “for yourselves also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Douay-Rheims). God reminds them that they were once strangers, therefore they should treat the strangers among them well.
What does it mean when God says they were strangers? Well, from a literal view, they were not native Egyptians. In fact, they were slaves. I’d say that qualifies them as strangers. But let’s look deeper. If we are to read the Old Testament within the context of the Church, we see that the Church has seen in the Old Testament what is called types. In other words, the things we see in the OT (which are true and actually happened) foreshadow other things to come and point to those things. How, you’re thinking, does that apply here?
Well, remember how God starts off this admonition. He starts off by reminding the people not to worship other gods. And why? Because they were strangers. In fact, they were, once upon a time, strangers to the very person of God. It was only God’s choice of Abram (their forefather) that made them no longer strangers. Had not God shown grace and mercy to Abram by choosing him, there would have been no people of Israel. They would have been strangers. But now, through God’s undeserved mercy and grace, they are no longer strangers. Rather, they are the chosen people.
We’re kind of like this, aren’t we?
Actually, we’re not kind of like this, we are exactly like this. We were once alienated from God. The Israelites were held captive in a land that was not their own, under the tyranny and oppression of evil pharaohs who used them spitefully. And so were we once held captive in the wasteland of sin, held captive by the tyranny of our own sinful flesh and the under the thumb of Satan who had used us spitefully.
So just as God reminds the Israelites that they were once strangers and held captive, so are we to remember that we were once strangers and held captive…which leads us to our Gospel reading.
Jesus is approached by the Pharisees and asked a question. Being sticklers for the law, they ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. It’s ironic that they ask Him this since they are the ones who literally added hundreds of rules to go along with the law. Anyways, they ask the question and notice Jesus’ response.
He says the greatest commandment (quoting Deut. 6:5) is “to love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” (Douay-Rheims) Then He quotes Leviticus 19:18 saying, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”
Jesus just did the same thing God the Father did in the Exodus text. He roots and grounds love of neighbor in love of God. In fact, He says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, our very salvation depends upon our ability to obey these two. By one, we are saved. By the other, we show forth our salvation.
But we need to understand what love is. Love does not mean remaining silent while our neighbor walks a path to Hell. In fact, our epistle reading today reminds us of something that we moderns don’t like talking about much. Look at our epistle reading quickly. St. Paul reminds us that there is a part of salvation that we don’t like considering: wrath. This is part of salvation that has, frankly, been left out of modern Christianity. God’s wrath is coming against those who reject Him and His Christ. Love demands that we call out to those who are in the path of God’s wrath to repent. If we don’t, we don’t get to say we really love them. Love wants our neighbor to be saved. It was, after all, God’s love toward us that prompted the coming of Christ in the eternal plan of salvation.
By our love for God and His Christ with our whole heart, soul and mind, we are saved.
By our love for our neighbor, we show forth our salvation.
The goodness and love of God toward us is the very engine of our salvation. His unmerited grace toward us is the second person of the Trinity, come in human flesh, Jesus the Christ!
By His perfect, sinless life, our flesh is made new.
By His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven.
By His resurrection, our new life is made sure.
Let this be the basis of our love for one another. Let us not be fractured and faithless. Let us rather remember that we too were once lost, strangers to the promises of God in Christ. But now, He has shown the greatest love of neighbor in giving of Himself on our behalf. Let us follow in the footsteps of our Savior and give of ourselves for the good and the salvation of others.
Thanks be to God!