Reflection on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 22:20-26, Matthew 22:34-40
It is as though the reading from Exodus was written for our times. “Don’t oppress. Don’t extort. Be compassionate.” Oppression, greed and lack of consideration of another were prevalent enough in the early times, too, as well as in our own. But also it is clear that God is always leading some people to cry out against oppression and for generosity and kindness to others. “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves.” We can be hopeful, cautiously, that a new U.S. administration will do something about immigration reform and will stop some of the newer laws that have been passed. These laws bring about raids in factories, which separate families and put workers in jail. Some of our laws almost make the immigrants into widows (or widowers) and orphans, as a parent is suddenly put in detention miles away from his or her family. Immigrants applying for asylum must stay in Mexico.
Then there is the part in Exodus about lending to a poor neighbor and not acting like an extortioner.
The economy is struggling because of the coronavirus and yet it seems that those who have much money are doing just fine. A bill was passed in the spring that rescued so many people who had lost jobs. Another such bill is needed, but passage looks doubtful. The U.S. government must lend to the poor neighbor.
I was touched by the last part of the reading: If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge (as collateral), you shall return it before sunset, for the cloak may be the only covering your neighbor has to sleep under that night. The financial ethos of our U.S. system would not even think of saying such a thing. Keep the cloak until the debt is paid — that’s justice is what our financial system says. But there is another way, where kindness and consideration lead.
John McKenzie, a scripture scholar from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, says that Jesus’ answer to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, is not unusual, and rabbis of the day would have considered it an excellent answer. You shall love God with all your heart, soul and mind. McKenzie says that the new thing Jesus did was to place this commandment on the same level as what Jesus calls the second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. McKenzie says there is no parallel in Jewish literature in which these two commandments really become one: to love God and to love the neighbor — one command.
This insight of Jesus has imbued our faith for years. None of us can argue that we love God, but that caring for the neighbor is not very important. And we don’t. We are perhaps more and more aware that our neighbor is sitting next to us and our neighbor is in a village in Guatemala or Syria. Globalization, it is called. The common good must be a part of it.
As Christians we know that loving God means loving the neighbor. In our lives, an unworldly relationship to God is not possible. Yet, love of neighbor can seem overwhelming at times, whether loving the near neighbor or the farther neighbor. Perhaps our prayer has to be a line from Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth says, “Encompassed by incomprehensible holy mystery, we allow our hearts to be conformed to God’s own heart, which pours out loving-kindness on the world in unrepentant faithfulness.” We can certainly ask God to conform out hearts to God’s own heart. We can pray that we are able to pour out loving-kindness on the world in unrepentant faithfulness. We can ask to be shown what it is we must do. We are not alone.