30 Sunday A - Foundations of the Kingdom: The 2 Commandments

A QUICK PURVIEW OF MATTHEW'S THEME OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD DURING THESE SUNDAYS: TK

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration


Why have we gathered here? One answer is to assemble together to show our love for God and for one another – because the whole of the Christian way can be summed up in these two commandments. But let us pause and recall that we do not always love God with our whole hearts nor our neighbors as ourselves.
Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments


Like last Sunday’s, today’s passage is built around a saying of Jesus. I would say about it what I said about last Sunday’s: it is a wisdom saying which the passage invites us to enter into with our feelings. Its truth should touch us so deeply that we are filled with gratitude, and also with humility as we realize that we do not live up to it – as individuals, as a Church and as communities.  The saying then becomes a call to repentance.
The two sayings are similar in that they are both teachings on wholeness:
- last Sunday’s spoke of the wholeness which comes from recognizing the sacredness of certain values – “giving to God what belongs to him”;
- this Sunday it is the wholeness which comes from recognizing right priorities among our various obligations – “which is the greatest of the commandments”. 

Wholeness is presented in the form of a journey – we become whole by moving from fragmentation to wholeness. This is a crucial message for our times since fragmentation is one of the characteristics of our modern Western culture and the journey to wholeness one of its greatest challenges. Wholeness therefore defines our Christian mission today. Our special contribution to the modern world is to help ourselves and one another make the journey to wholeness – and this gospel passage shows us how this is achieved.

The passage is addressed to us as individuals in our various vocations – parents, community leaders, ministers of Church communities, spiritual guides and counselors;  it is also addressed to us as the Church of our time.
As always we read Jesus’ saying, not merely as theory, but as testimony also. This was how he looked on life at this crucial stage of his journey, when he was in Jerusalem, facing the wrath of “the chief priests and elders” (mentioned explicitly on two previous Sundays), arrest and crucifixion. A good approach to interpreting the passage is to start with Jesus – what was in his mind when he said this? So too a sign that we have made a good meditation is that we celebrate Jesus (and all the people like him) who have touched our lives.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees represent the fragmentation which Jesus rejected – and calls us to reject – in favor of wholeness. As we saw last week, a sign that we have made a good meditation is that we feel compassion for them – we know where they are coming from.
The passage traces the journey to wholeness as a movement from a solid foundation (“the greatest commandment”) which leads to three consequences. The foundation is to put God in the first place, laying claim to our whole selves (“heart, soul and mind”). Once the foundation is set, three things fall into place:
- the neighbor
- ourselves
- the “law and the prophets”.
Let us look at each stage of the movement.
- The foundation – God
We often find ourselves stressed by our many obligations. One day we realize our root problem: we have allowed obligations to become important in themselves, whereas they are important only because they are linked to a basic obligation – our commitment to God, the center of all our lives. We celebrate that moment of insight.
In our meditation we must make sure to interpret “love” concretely. In our culture it has become vague – meaning many things and therefore nothing very precise. We need then to give it some “body” – meaning such things as “surrender ourselves to”, “put our trust in”, “choose to please”.
“All your heart, all your soul, all your mind”: we do not have to give each of these a separate meaning. A cumulative effect is intended – “your whole self”. The real stress is on “all” which means in the concrete “more than to any person, thing or cause”.
In fact, a good approach to the saying is to start by asking ourselves the question: “who (or what) do I love (surrender myself to, put my trust in, choose to please) more than any other?” That is God for me. The further question now is, “is this the true God, the Father of Jesus?”
-  First consequence – the neighbor
We then work our way “downwards”. Once God is first for us we will find that love of our neighbor becomes our “greatest commandment”. The two obligations “resemble each other”, meaning that we now choose to give our whole selves to our neighbor,
- spouse
- children
- community
- the human family.
We celebrate the Jesus (person, community, event, bible text, natural phenomenon) who led us to this wholeness.
-  Second consequence – neighbor and self become one

An important area of fragmentation in our modern Western culture is individualism. This concept, which is at the heart of most modern institutions, says that our first obligation as human beings is to look after ourselves. Individualism affects the whole gamut of human relationships – between  individuals, nations, ethnic groups, religions etc. It has even affected the life of our church.
Jesus, however, (like all Jesus-like people) totally rejects individualism and upholds solidarity instead. His position is that we and our neighbor are one person – our destinies are inextricably intertwined.  As the passage says, when we love our neighbor we are loving ourselves. This integration is another secret of wholeness and we celebrate the Jesus who teaches it by word and example.
- Third consequence – “the whole law and the prophets” fall into place
In Jesus’ time “the law and the prophets” referred to the Jewish ancestral tradition. We interpret it today of our own cultural traditions. The saying celebrates a time when we experience them as perfectly fulfilled (“hanging together”) in Jesus. This saying then rejects another source of fragmentation in our modern world (one which our Church has contributed to) – the concept that Western culture is superior to others. A sign that the people of Africa, Asia and Latin and Native America have come to “love” the Father of Jesus is that they reverence their “whole law” and their “prophets”.

Like last Sunday’s saying, this one is presented in the context of a story and identifying with the different characters can help bring the story to life for us – always on condition that we don’t look down on them but identify with them.
As we have seen, the Pharisees and Sadducees represent us at the beginning of our journey to wholeness. We can however focus on the fact that they “got together” for the purpose of “disconcerting” Jesus; this is significant because the Pharisees and Sadducees were usually at odds. They therefore represent us when we are afraid to make the journey to wholeness and ally ourselves with anyone who will collaborate with us in running away from it.
We can also consider each separately as representing us when, like the invitees to the wedding feast, we reject the call to wholeness;
- the Pharisees’ learning had made them arrogant and complacent;
- the Sadducees were conscious of their standing in society and wanted to preserve it at all costs.  Confronted with them, Jesus remains clear and focused because his priorities  are right.

Prayer reflection

Lord, forgive us Christians that we have complicated your very simple message.
Like the Pharisees, we have become very learned:
* we know canon law and all the laws of the Church;
* we have listened to all the wise people, both ancient and modern;
* we have studied the background to the books of the bible.
Like the Sadducees, we have influence in society and know how to exercise power.
But the upshot of it all is that we are never sure what we are to do
because one commandment is always in conflict with another,
and there is always some expert who disagrees with what we decide to do.
Thank you, Lord, for sending us Jesus.
In one instant he cleared away all the undergrowth we had allowed to cover up the truth
and we remembered that there is really only one commandment:
* that pleasing you is the only important thing in life;
* that if we seek your will only, we end up loving others and doing what is best for ourselves.
Then suddenly all the many laws and prophets fall into place.

Lord, we thank you for the great teachers who have touched our lives,
they were not learned like the Pharisees,
nor high class like the Sadducees,
but they taught us the basic lessons of life,
and ever since we have been able to put laws and prophets into proper perspective. 

Lord, according to the philosophy of individualism
the greatest commandment is to look after ourselves,
to seek prosperity for our immediate families and for our countries.
To defend that commandment,
we quote scientists and doctors and lawyers,
allying ourselves with all sorts of people
with whom we do not normally associate.

Help us to be simple and uncompromising, like Jesus,
showing that loving others is the same as worshipping you
as well as the only sure way of loving ourselves,
and that all laws and prophets must fall into line with this teaching. 

*********************************************************
Homily Notes

1. How do we learn to be Christians? The answer is that we have to learn to behave in a particular way: the way of love. It was to establish the community that would live in this way that Jesus was sent to us by the Father; and it is to be the people who live in this way that we are called to belong to the church today.

2. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

3. This is what is commanded to each of us; but it is given as the greatest commandment of ‘The Law’ – and The Law was the most valuable possession of a community, a people. We are each called to love God and neighbor, but we do this not as loners but as part of a community. Then, with each practicing love of God and neighbor, the community will be like a transmitter showing the love of God and the new way of life he calls us to live to all around us.

4. People should be able to spot us as Christians by the way we live long before they have found out what beliefs distinguish us.

****************************************************************
John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

It is always difficult when people ask us to put a list of items in order of preference. For example, deciding whether we like chocolate more than mints, or apples more than oranges, could take hours. Often in arguments, our opponents might pose a range of options which is almost impossible to answer, such as: Which is greater, your love for your spouse or your love for your children?

This is what the Pharisees thought they were doing when one of them, a doctor of the law, asked Jesus: ‘Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ (Mt 22:36). We learn that, in asking this question, the Pharisee was trying to disconcert Jesus. So the Pharisees were hoping that, somehow, Jesus would make a mistake and say something that was incompatible with and offensive to the Jewish religion. Then they could use that against him.

They were jealous of his popularity with the crowds and they knew that they were dealing with a formidable teacher who could quote and explain the scriptures expertly. Surely now, they were thinking, Jesus would fall into the error of belittling at least some of God’s commandments by exalting one over another? We have probably all been in situations like this in discussions and debates, when we have been hard pressed to offer a satisfactory answer without compromising the faith or moral teaching in some way.

Jesus’ reply was simple and direct. First, he emphasized the first and greatest commandment to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. Nobody could argue against that. The Pharisees must then have been waiting, hoping that a mistake was imminent.

Pope Francis reaching out like Jesus did.

Then Jesus added that the second commandment is like the first: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mt 22:39). Next Jesus achieved a masterstroke. Instead of leaving it at that and, perhaps, allowing the criticism that the other commandments (forbidding theft, murder and adultery) are not so important, he added: ‘On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets too’ (Mt 22:40).

The cunning Pharisees must have been dejected. Not only did Jesus refute in advance any potential claim that he had diminished the importance of any of the commandments, but hc had included all the sayings of the prophets in his reply. The greatest of the commandments, which is to love God and neighbor, is the basis for every other law and every exhortation of the prophets who, over many centuries, had spoken about fidelity to God’s will.

The challenge for us is to reflect carefully on Jesus’ defense ol the truth. He did not shy away from the questions posed by the Pharisees, although he knew that they were being mischievous and trying to trap him. Let us resolve to answer honestly and thoughtfully the questions about our faith that are asked by family, friends and colleagues. 

*************
From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

In this Sunday’s Gospel, as in last Sunday’s, the Jewish leaders seek to trip Jesus up.  The question the lawyer poses was much discussed in rabbinical circles:  Which is the greatest commandment?  The Pharisees’ intention in posing the question was to force Jesus into a single rabbinical school, thereby opening him up to criticism from all other sides.  Jesus’ answer, however, proves his fidelity to both the Jewish tradition and to a spirituality that transcends the legal interpretations of the commandments: the “second” commandment is the manifestation of the first.  If we love the Lord God with our whole being, that love will manifest itself in our feeding of the hungry, our sheltering of the homeless and our liberating the oppressed. 

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus’ command to love our neighbor means seeing one another as we see ourselves: realizing that our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families are the same dreams others have for themselves and their families. 

Every one of us, at one time or other, is an alien, outsider, foreigner and stranger.  The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not confined to our “own” people or to a list of specific situations, but should affect every relationship we have and every decision we make.

As our society becomes more and more diverse, as science continues to make once unimaginable advances in all forms of technology, the ethical and moral questions we face become more complicated, difficult and challenging.  The Great Commandment gives us the starting point for dealing with such issues: to love as God loves us -- without limit, without condition, without counting the cost, completely and selflessly. 

In our e-connected existence, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are especially challenging: to love with our whole heart and soul and mind requires us to “unplug” and be present to one another, to engage one another as our loving God is engaged with us, to seek not just images and perceptions of compassion but behold compassion and experience love in one another.  

Blood brother

True story:

An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia.  His parents explained to him that she needed a blood transfusion and that his blood was probably compatible.  They asked if they could test his blood.  Sure, he said.  The results showed that his blood would be a good match.  Then they asked the boy if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance at living.  He said he would like to think about overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate his blood to his sister.  So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his sister.  Both of them were hooked up to IVs.  A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put into the girl’s IV.  The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister. 

The doctor came over to see how he was doing.  The boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon I until I start to die?” 

[Jack Kornfield, cited in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.] 

Every word of the Gospel comes down to love -- love that is simple enough to articulate but so demanding that we shy away from it.  The mystery of God’s love is that the Being of Supreme and Omnipotent Power should love his creation so completely and so selflessly -- and all God seeks in return is that such love be shared by his people throughout his creation.  The little brother, thinking that giving his blood would mean he would die, nonetheless is willing to give his life to his sister so that she might live; in his generosity, he models the great love and compassion of the God who spares nothing to bring us to him.  May we seek to follow the great commandment of the Gospel: to love with the same selfless compassion, care and completeness of God.   

***********
Father James Gilhooley  

When one elephant in a herd is hurt, other elephants will help the injured animal stay on its feet. They crowd about the injured elephant and provide a shoulder for him to lean on. Can we do less for people?  

The Herodians, Pharisees, and Saducees, pursuing Jesus in today's Gospel, were wannabe jailers. They had hunted Jesus for three years. They wanted Him out of their lives. Each time out they came up not with His scalp but with empty air. They were losers.  

 Today's strategy was foolproof. Or so they thought. They took turns baiting Jesus with thorny legal questions. They hoped to reel Him in like an exhausted fish and gut Him.  

 Today the Pharisees' attorney was the leadoff batter, "Master, which is the Law's greatest commandment?" The question appears harmless to us, but it was a ticking bomb. For centuries, the Jews argued this question. They had 600 laws. If it was His enemies' lucky day, the Christ would give an unpopular response. The crowd would grow angry. He'd become history.  

 Jesus' answer rings out clear even today. You must love God and neighbor. Neither of these concepts was news to the lawyer. Both were taken by Christ out of the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But He put a peculiar spin on His response. We see three firsts.  

 For the first time in Jewish theology, Jesus had taken the two concepts and made them two sides of one coin. Also He was the first to argue that "on these two commandments hang the whole Law..." Finally, He was a complete original in telling His audience one must love Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles were the ones the Pharisees loved to hate.  

 Jesus had proved to be the Lord of Surprises. No wonder the editors of Time, Newsweek, and the US News & World Report chose to place His picture on their front cover in the same week. He was front-page news in His time and remains so in ours.  

 The attorney from the firm of Dewey, Cheetem, & Howe, who was fronting for the hostiles, called time out. He found himself holding a gun shooting backwards. Fighting Jesus was unproductive. We cannot beat up on His enemies for not marrying the concepts of God and neighbor. Their inability to do so reflects a centuries old dispute in our Church.  

 Some Catholics, especially many young, argue, "I come to church to worship God. Spare me the message on the poor. I get that on the TV all week." This is telephone booth theology: just me and God and nobody else. Here they obey the first great commandment and forget the second.  

 Other Catholics operate on social worker principles. They put out for the poor not because it pleases God but because it pleases them. Jesus is squeezed out of the package. They obey the second great commandment and disregard the first. Such people are humanists but not Christians.  

 Maximilian Kolbe was a Nazi prisoner. He heard his fellow prisoners badmouth their jailers. The priest, who would be executed by the Nazis in 1941, urged them to forgive their captors. "Hatred only leads to more of the same. Only love," he said, "is creative." Kolbe, now a canonized saint, loved his jailers because of today's Gospel. He had learned that when you look for good in others, you discover the best in yourself. (Unknown)  

 Karl Barth wrote volumes on God. Still he tells us his definition of God is summed up in three words: One who loves. Since God is a tremendous lover, should we be less? When you fail to see God in people, you come to see others as a lost cause. If you forget today's Gospel, people appear to be unteachable. You become a misanthrope or cynic.  

 This week give time. Give a friend flowers. Share a cake. Perhaps a phone call. Give hope. Hug a child needing affection. Speak praise to a teen-ager. Forgive an enemy. Use humor to defuse an argument. Smile. Say thank you. (Unknown)  

 A Hindu proverb sums up the above: "The narrow-minded ask, 'Are these people strangers or members of our tribe?' But to those in whom love dwells, the whole world is one family."  

(Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम. from “vasudha”, the earth; “iva”, is ; and “kutumbakam”, family) is a Sanskrit phrase that means that the whole world is one single family.
The concept originates in the Vedic scripture Maha Upanishad (Chapter 6, Verse 72):
अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं 
ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam
Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family. - TK)
 Meditate today on the aphorism that people with a heart for God have a heart for people.  

If you find yourself a lousy lover, don't grow discouraged. Many bad lovers are people who did not know how close they were to success when they gave up? (Unknown)  

If the elephants can show love for each other, why can't we?  

 Reaching out and aiding your neighbor is excellent exercise for the heart. (Unknown)   

*********
ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Fr. Tony Kadavil

The inspiring five word sermon:

There is a legend handed down from the early Church about John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. Of the twelve original apostles, only John is said to have lived to a ripe old age. In his later years, not only his body but also his eyesight and his mind began to fail him. Eventually, according to the legend, John's mind had deteriorated to the point that he could only speak five words, one sentence which he would repeat over and over. You can imagine the high regard in which the early Church must have held the last surviving apostle of Jesus. The legend says that every Lord's Day, John would be carried into the midst of the congregation that had assembled for worship in the Church at Ephesus, where John spent the last years of his life. Total silence would fall over the congregation, even though they already knew what John was going to say. Then the old man would speak the words, "My children, love one another." Over and over, he would repeat them until he grew tired from talking, and no one yawned or looked at his watch or gazed off into space absentmindedly. They listened as John preached his five-word sermon over and over: "My children, love one another."

“Christians love one another.”

 In the second century AD, a non-Christian named Aristides wrote to the Emperor Hadrian about the Christians.  He said “Christians love one another.  They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them.  If one of them has something, he gives freely to those who have nothing.  If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are as happy as though he were a real brother.  They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers through the Spirit, in God.  And if they hear that one of them is in jail or persecuted for professing the name of their Redeemer, they give him all he needs.  This is really a new kind of person.  There is something Divine in them.”  No wonder the non-Christians of the first century used tell one another, “See how those Christians love one another.”

Love them anyway:

In Calcutta, India, there is a children’s home named Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), founded by Mother Teresa.  The home continues to be operated by her community, the Missionaries of Charity.  On the wall of the home hangs a sign which reads:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
SUCCEED ANYWAY
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
BUILD ANYWAY
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY 

Mother Teresa counsels her young charges that the challenges offered by this sign can be met only if human beings are motivated by a love and a respect for one another which looks beyond faults, differences, ulterior motives, success and failure.  Mother Teresa once said of herself, “By blood and origin, I am all Albanian.  My citizenship is Indian.  I am a Catholic nun.  As to my calling, I belong to the whole world.  As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”  (A Simple Path, Ballantine Books, New York: 1995).  It is this relationship of belonging and the loving service which grows out of that belonging which the Scriptural authors called Covenant. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez) 

2.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

The first reading from the book of Exodus reminded the people of their obligations towards others, especially the widow, the stranger and the orphan. The time of the exile was definitely a very painful and dark part of the history of the people of Israel, during which they experienced what it meant to be weak and dependant on others. Times were better now but they were asked not to forget what they themselves had undergone and be sensitive to the needs of the foreigners among them, the homeless, the helpless and the dependant. Having felt the pain of injustice and oppression themselves, they must never inflict pain on others. The health of a community can be measured by the way it treats such people.

 “I have broken the commandment of men…”

In the time of the desert monks, there was an abbot by the name of Moses who had a great reputation for holiness. Easter was approaching, so the monks met and decided to fast the entire length of Holy Week. Having come to this decision, each monk went off to his cell, to fast and pray. However, about the middle of the week, two wandering monks came to visit the cell of Abbot Moses. Seeing that they were starving, he cooked a little vegetable stew for them. To make them feel at ease he took a little of it himself. Meanwhile the other monks had seen the smoke rising from the abbot’s cell. It could mean only one thing –he had lit a fire to cook some food. In other words, he had broken the solemn fast. They were shocked. And in the eyes of many of them, he fell from his pinnacle of sanctity. In a body they went over to confront him. Seeing judgement in their eyes, he asked, “What crime have I committed that makes you look at me like this?” “You’ve broken the solemn fast,” they answered. “So I have,” he replied. “I have broken the commandment of men, but in sharing my food with these brothers of ours, I have kept the commandment of God, that we should love one another.” On hearing this, the monks grew silent, and went away humbled and wiser.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ 

In the Gospel Jesus is asked the question: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” Jesus’ answer is plain and simple. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” He adds: “The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself.” What is absolutely certain is that God has to be the top priority of our life. Our lives make sense only when He has the first place. Yet it is a fact that so often God has second place. When we make important decisions about our life do we take into account what God would say about it? The way we structure our time, our energy, our efforts, our lifestyle, all these are realistic indicators pointing to what has priority in our life. The special focus of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus reminds us that the second law is just as important as the first: “You should love your neighbour as yourself.” If I do not love the neighbour whom I can see how can I say I love God? Love is seen in our attitude and actions towards our neighbour. The challenge is to love others just as much as we love ourselves. We all know how we take care of our own needs and wants. When there are decisions to be made is our main consideration: “What’s in it for me?” or “How will my decision/action or inaction affect others?” The yardstick of our action should always be: “In every situation is this action of mine the most loving thing?”

Greater love than this...

 There was an article written in Time magazine years ago, when an airplane suddenly crashed into the sea. The writer claimed that it was one of America’s worst tragedies because of the large number of lives that were lost. It was also America’s hour of heroism. Immediately on hearing of the crash, several rescue operations were set into motion and the rescue workers, saved many survivors. There were several heroes who distinguished themselves that day by their life-saving action. The first heroes were the rescue workers, and when they were later interviewed on TV, they were asked one question: “Why did you risk your life?” They said that it was their job, and they were expected to do. These rescue workers perhaps symbolize people who will do things if it is their job. “If it is not my job then I will not lift a finger to help”. The second hero was one of the passengers, who was rescued and was being taken to the lifeboats.  He noticed a lady drowning, dived into the waters, and pulled her to the safety of the lifeboat. When asked later why he had risked his life he replied: “She called out to me and asked for help so I had to help.” The hero could perhaps represent people who will do things if they are asked. “If you want my help, ask for it!” The third hero was also one of the passengers of the ill-fated plane. After the tragedy struck, he found himself floating among the debris. Fortunately, one of the rescue helicopters noticed him and lowered a halter, which he grabbed and held on to. He could easily have saved himself but he saw a young lady drowning and he quickly put the halter around her and the helicopter was able to rescue her. Soon the helicopter came again and once again the man grabbed the lifeline. Instead of helping himself, he looked around and noticed another old lady struggling and got the halter around her and she was rescued. Six times the man had a chance to save himself but six times he gave the lifeline to another, whom he felt had a greater need. The seventh time when the helicopter came to the spot where the man had been floating, he was gone! History will never know who exactly this heroic passenger was, but he symbolized what Christ meant when he said: “Greater love than this no man has, than that he lays down his life for a friend!”

Film: Father Damien: The Leper Priest

Father Damien: The Leper Priest is a movie made for television. The program dramatizes the story of Fr. Damien who came from Belgian to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1873 to serve the lepers there until he too contracted leprosy and died in 1889. At that time in history, the colony of Molokai was a dumping ground for lepers and it was like a death sentence to be put there. There was little law and order, medical help and supplies were non-existent, and housing and sanitation were so bad that the island seemed like a sewer. At first Fr. Damien found the lepers repulsive. But as he suffered with them, struggled with them and served them, he overcame his revulsion towards the lepers and developed deep feelings of love for them. Fr. Damien dedicated almost two decades of his life to the lepers because he believed that in doing so he was demonstrating both his love for God and for his neighbour.

Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’ 

On Hospitality

 A man attending a crowded church service refused to take his hat off when asked to do so by the ushers. The preacher was perturbed too, and after the service told the man that the church was quite happy to have him as guest, and invited him to join the church, but he explained the traditional decorum regarding men’s hats and said, “I hope you will confirm to that practice in the future.” “Thank you,” said the man. “And thank you for taking time to talk to me. It was good of you to ask me to join the congregation. In fact, I joined it three years ago and have been coming regularly ever since, but today is the first day anyone ever paid attention to me. After being an unknown for three years, today, by simply keeping on my hat, I had the pleasure of talking to the ushers. And now I have a conversation with you, who have always appeared too busy to talk to me before!” –What do we do to make strangers welcome? Are we too busy?

Anonymous

Are you related to Him?

 Just before Christmas, there was a boy wandering through a shopping complex. He was admiring the colourful display of Christmas gifts. A lady closely watched him moving from one shop to another. Realizing the poverty of the boy, she took him inside the shop and showed him the Christmas tree and explained to him the meaning of Christmas. “God loves us” she said, and so to save us from our sins, he was born in a manger as a little babe.” Then she bought him a pair of new clothes and shoes, along with some Christmas gifts and a candy and some refreshments. The little boy was thrilled. As she led him out of the shop, he looked at her and asked, “Are you God?” “No” she replied, “I am only one of his children.” “Ah!” said the boy, “I knew that you were somehow related to him.”

John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Love is Sacrifice

 God-Jesus is love. Jesus’ bent body to wash feet and bloody body, crucified, are supreme symbols of love. Champaben, a poor tribal widow of Kanaghat village, south Gujarat, taught me quite literally what ‘mad love’ is all about. Her teenage son Manoj, is severely mentally handicapped. To allow her to care for her two small daughters, we had Manoj into an institution for mentally challenged. A day later Champaben returned, weeping, “Father, I’m sorry! I can’t live without my Manoj. Please bring him back!” And to this day, despite Manoj’s violent behaviour and screams, Champaben lovingly cares for him. Love is service and sacrifice.

Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds’ 

Topping the List

 There is an immortal song written by an English poet, Leigh Hunt about a man named Abou Ben Adhem. Abou Ben Adhem woke from his sleep one night and saw in his room an angel writing in a book of gold the names of those who love God. “Is my name one of those in your book?” inquired Abou. “No, Not so,” replied the angel. “I pray you, then,” said Abou, “Write me as one who loves God’s fellowmen.” The following day the angel came again and displayed the names of those who love God, and Abou Ben Adhem’s name topped the list. This story makes the point that true love of God and true love of our fellowmen are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist apart from the other. That is what we find in today’s gospel.

John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’ 

In all things may love be the guiding light of our lives! 

******************
3.     Sermons.com 

Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and one of the developers of the atomic bomb, was once asked how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but how he conducted himself in his studies. She always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?"

"Asking good questions," Rabi said, "made me become a scientist."

In order to ask a good question I think you need to have noble motives behind the question. You have to want to know the truth. The Pharisees, by contrast, already had the answers to their questions. They felt they already knew the truth. How many times have we had it in for someone, asking a question designed to trap them? We do it to our loved ones all the time. In a moment like this we are not trying to learn; we are trying to injure.
The Pharisees come to Jesus once again with a question designed to do damage to the reputation of Jesus. And once again Jesus proves he is equal to the task. Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Now, even though this question was used to test Jesus, it is nonetheless an important question. Perhaps in the life of Israel at that time it was THE most important question. But Jesus had a question of his own. A question, which signified that the times were changing; a new theological season had come. He put this question to the same Pharisees who had tested him: "What do you think of the Messiah. Whose son is he?"

These were the two most important questions of that era and my friends they are the two most important questions of our time. Let us consider... 

1. Which Commandment Is the Greatest?
2. What Do You Think of the Messiah? 

Last week we spoke of the power of "first impressions." From a chronological standpoint, Paul's "First Letter to the Thessalonians" was his first written words that have come down to us. It is the "first impression" of a life of Jesus discipleship written in the New Testament.  

In this week's gospel text from Matthew, we have a kind of closing bracket to that "first impression," a bookend "final impression," a last word from Jesus to the various Temple authorities. We have the third and final confrontation with those whom Jesus encountered as soon as he entered Jerusalem for his final visit into the Temple in Jerusalem.  

His first encounter was with the Herodians (who were egged on by the Pharisees) when he was grilled about the question of paying taxes to Rome.  

His second encounter was with the Sadduccees where his views on resurrection and eternal life were sized up and audited.  

Now in this third encounter Jesus is confronted by what appears to be an organized, formal assembly of Pharisees. These were those Jewish authorities who were most devoted to imbedding the force and focus of written Torah law into the fabric of every jot and tittle of everyday life. 

The Pharisees had cataloged a list of 613 commandments or laws, which all faithful Jews should follow. But these 613 laws were also divided into those that were "weighty" and those that were "light."  "Thou shalt not commit murder" was one of the "Big Ten." Written by the hand of God on stone at Sinai, this commandment was definitely weighty. Making a fire on the Sabbath, striking up some firelight, that was definitely "light," and in an emergency, absolutely expendable. The Pharisees' question to Jesus was tried to get him to name which of the most "weighty" commandments were the "hefty, hefty, hefty" ones. What commandment was #1, the big boss with the hot sauce. 

Jesus' response was his "final word," his "last impression" in this series of Temple confrontations... 
_______________________
 Two Hands 

Lewis L. Austin, in This I Believe, wrote: "Our maker gave us two hands. One to hold onto him and one to reach out to his people. If our hands are full of struggling to get possessions, we can't hang onto God or to others very well. If, however, we hold onto God, who gave us our lives, then his love can flow through us and out to our neighbor." 

Lewis L. Austin, This I Believe
__________________________________
 Staying in Line 

At the entrance to the harbor at the Isle of Man there are two lights. One would think that the two signals would confuse the pilot. But the fact is, he has to keep them in line; as long as he keeps them in line, his ship is safe. It is the same with these commands of Jesus: love of self, the love of God, and love others. When we keep them in line, we remain safe and well in the channel of the Christian life.

 Jerry L. Schmalemberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Co., Inc. 
___________________________________
 Give It to Me in a Nutshell 

"Give it to me in a nutshell" -- an old saying -- it means, Tell me what I need to know, but keep it short. Don't bother me with unnecessary detail. Don't bore me with a long, technical explanation. Just get to the bottom line.

We like things short and sweet. Network television news has time only to hit the high spots and to show us a few pictures, but it gives us the big picture in a few minutes. We like that.

I used to have to sit through weekly staff meetings. Sometimes they would go on for two hours, because everyone wanted to have their say. Then we got a new boss who limited each of us to one overhead slide. Each slide had about ten lines, so each person could show us the status of ten programs -- max. We had to code each program green, yellow, or red. Green meant that everything was o.k. Yellow meant that there was a problem. Red meant, "The sky is falling!" Furthermore, we weren't to ramble. Stand up! Speak up! Shut up! Sit down! I loved it, because we got through the meetings quickly, and I could get back to work.

Give it to me in a nutshell!

That's what the lawyer said to Jesus -- Give it to me in a nutshell. At least, we think that's what he meant. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Do you know, or should I call Pew Research?"

Richard Niell Donovan, In a Nutshell
______________________________________
 Love is not blind. Love is the only thing that sees. 

Frank Crane
__________________________
 The Right Kind of Devotion 

In order that we may know how to love ourselves, an end has been established for us to which we are to refer all our action, so that we may attain to bliss. For if we love ourselves, our one wish is to achieve blessedness. Now this end is to cling to God. Thus, if we know how to love ourselves, the commandant to love our neighbor bids us to do all we can to bring our neighbor to love God. This is the worship of God; this is true religion; this is the right kind of devotion; this is the service which is owed to God alone. 

Augustine, City of God
____________________________
 The Love That Conquers the World

 The love for equals is a human thing -- of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.

The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing--the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.


The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing--to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. 

And then there is the love for the enemy--love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.
 Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
___________________________
 Just a Person Across the Way 

Edgar Guest, a renowned American poet at the turn of the century, tells of a neighbor by the name of Jim Potter. Mr. Potter ran the drug store in the small town where Edgar Guest lived. Guest recalled that daily he would pass his neighbor and how they would smile and exchange greetings. But it was a mere casual relationship. 

Then came that tragic night in the life of Edgar Guest when his first born child died. He felt lonely and defeated. These were grim days for him and he was overcome with grief. Several days later Guest had reason to go to the drug store run by his neighbor, and when he entered Jim Potter motioned for him to come behind the counter. "Eddie," he said, "I really can't express to you the great sympathy that I have for you at this time. All I can say is that I am terribly sorry, and if you need for me to do anything, you can count on me." 

Many years later Edgar Guest wrote of that encounter in one of his books. This is how he worded it: "Just a person across the way -- a passing acquaintance. Jim Potter may have long since forgotten that moment when he extended his hand to me in sympathy, but I shall never forget it -- never in all my life. To me it stands out like the silhouette of a lonely tree against a crimson sunset." 

[Suggestion for follow-up on this story]

 I have wondered how it is that I want people to remember me when

I come to end of my life's journey. 

[Name some accomplishments followed by]

But I really don't care if someone remembers me for that. I really don't. 

I do hope that people are able to say of me at the end of my life's pilgrimage: When we were sick he came to us; when we needed help, he was there; when I was down, he lifted me up. In short, I hope that my ministry is remembered for simple acts of kindness. For if that is the case, then my life would have been worth it and I might have come close to fulfilling the greatest commandment in life: Love God and love your neighbor. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
_______________________
 Love Is More than We Can See

A man once observed a young boy out in a field flying a kite. He noticed that there was something odd about the way the boy was standing and holding on to the string. He walked up to the boy and then learned that the boy was blind. He said, "Do you like flying kites?"

The boy said, "I sure do."

This piqued the man's curiosity and he asked, "How is that when you cannot see it?"

The boy answered, "I may not be able to see it but I can feel it tugging'!"

We may not always be able to identify the love of God in this world. Like the little boy, we may not be able to see love but it has a tug that lets us know it is there. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
_______________________

 "By loving the unlovable, You made me lovable." 

Augustine to God
_______________________
 Chip It Away! 

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking. 

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?"
The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!" 

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tenderheartedness.