TEXT: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 10, 2016

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

For many people that may happen with today’s Gospel,

as Jesus tells us that “to inherit eternal life”, to go to heaven,

we must first,

“love the Lord, your God,

with all your heart,…[soul],…strength, and …mind,

and second, “…[love] your neighbor as yourself.”

 

At first glance, at least to many, Jesus seems to be giving 2 new moral laws

that sort of wipe out the moral laws of the Old Testament,

in particular, the 10 Commandments.

But a more careful reading shows something very different.

Notice, it’s not Jesus who says “love the Lord your God with all your heart” etc,

it’s the other guy in the reading, the one called the “scholar of the law.”

And he does that in response to Jesus’ question: “what does the law say?”

 

And he is not a scholar of some supposedly NEW law of Jesus,

he’s a scholar of the OLD law of Moses:

he is an expert on the old moral code

that some people think Jesus is wiping out.

In fact, again, if we look a little closer

we see that the scholar is actually quoting the old law.

If we go back to the Old Testament

in chapters 5 and 6 of Deuteronomy and 19 of Leviticus

where the 10 commandments are actually listed and explained,

right at the end of those passages you find the very words

the scholar quotes to Jesus today:

“love the Lord, your God,

with all your heart,…[soul],…strength, and …mind.”

and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

In short, these 2 “great commandments of love” don’t override

the 10 commandments, they summarize them;

they don’t set love in opposition to the commandments,

but show that the commandments concretely define and explain

what love of God and love of neighbor actually require.

How can you love me, God says, if you worship other gods?

And how can you love your neighbor if you kill them?

 

So what seems at first to be a new law of love,

turns out to be a re-affirmation of the old law of love

called “the commandments.”

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

But all this begs the question: who is my neighbor, that I’m supposed to love?

To some, in both Jesus’ time and our own,

the answer to this is not what it might at first seem.

In particular, some try to narrow down the definition of “neighbor”

to include only a few people they like.

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ time had great regard for people

like the priests and Levites, but couldn’t stand the Samaritans.

So Jesus points out, in effect:

“no, no, even the people you might otherwise despise are your neighbor.”

Or as he says elsewhere:

“You have heard that it was said,

‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I say to you, Love your enemies.”

 

Essentially Jesus makes it clear that your neighbor is…everyone.

And this is imbedded in the 10 commandments themselves:

notice, they don’t say “you shall not steal from people you like,”

but simply “you shall not steal”—period.

 

On the other hand, some people effectively limit the definition of “neighbor”

to those who are strangers to us

—they like to think of their neighbor as the man

you find begging for money on the street,

or living in the aftermath of a hurricane or oil spill.

In some ways it’s easy to love those folks:

you hand them a 20, or you write them a check,

and you’re done with your duty to love your neighbor.

And then you can ignore

the guy sitting in the next desk at work,

whose life is a shambles after his wife left him;

or the kid in the next bunk at summer camp who no one will play with.

 

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

Somehow it’s much easier to “love” our neighbor

when we can see them as an impersonal charity case

we can throw money at,

rather than a real person we know and have to live with.

 

The bottom line is that your neighbor is

whatever person Jesus brings into your life and says, “here, help him.”

 

____

But (,again,) sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

In fact, first impressions of today’s parable lead many to think that

love of neighbor involves sort an egalitarianism:

that we should show no partiality or priority

in loving the different neighbors in our lives.

After all, in today’s parable the Jewish Jesus shows no partiality

to his fellow Jews, the priest and the levite:

it’s the non-Jew, the Samaritan, who He identifies as “neighbor.”

 

But here again, if we put this all into the context

of the way of love rooted in the commandments,

you get a different perspective:

there is a certain priority in who you are to love and how.

If you notice in the commandments, there’s a sort of a subtle shift

between the first three commandments and the next seven:

The first 3 are directly connected to loving God:

no false gods, no taking God’s name in vain, and rest on the Lord’s Day.

But the last seven are more directly about loving your neighbor:

do not kill your neighbor, etc.

And the very first of these 7 commandments about loving your neighbor

lays out a clear priority in loving,

as it tells us: “Honor you father and mother.”

 

Right there, Almighty God tells us, love your parents first:

these are the ones He brings to you

right from the beginning of your life and says,

“here, love them,

and learn from them how to love Me

and all your other neighbors.”

 

But the thing is, this isn’t just about loving our parents:

our parents are the beginning and root of the whole family:

from moms and dads come sons and daughters and brothers and sisters.

So that this commandment is also about the priority of loving your family,

and requires not only children honoring parents,

but also parents honoring their children,

and brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,

honoring, loving, each other.

 

Who is my neighbor that I must love?

First, Jesus says, love your family.

 

And yet, how often we fail to do that.

How often do families snipe at each other, or neglect each other?

How often do children think of some cultural figure as their hero or role-model,

and ignore the truly heroic efforts and great example

of their own parents?

How many times do brothers and sisters fight and argue with each other?

How many ways do parents find time to dedicate to some great charitable cause

and but have no time for the child God has personally entrusted to them?

How many times are husband or wives

too tired from helping out at school or church

to spend even a few minutes listening to their spouses’ problems

at the end of the day?

 

Unfortunately, all too often that’s the way it is with families.

And not just natural families.

By our baptism we have been given a share in Christ’s own life,

and so in everything He has–including his sonship.

As St. Paul says: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God.”

 

So, then, as brothers and sisters in Christ we owe each other

a love that has a certain priority over others.

If Christians can’t love one another other as Christ has loved us,

how can we love unbelievers?

 

So, yes, we must love everyone

even if they hate us, or we find the way they think or act or believe

to be strange or even repugnant,

[even if they’re terrorists or Muslims or homosexuals],

we have to love everyone.

 

But loving begins with our families, and with our family of faith.

As St. Paul says:

“let us do good to all men,

and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Look around you: you, we, are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

And by the grace of God, I am your spiritual father, you my sons and daughters.

 

From all this, we can see that the love rooted in the commandments

is like a seed that blossoms into a beautiful rose bush:

in the context of “love,” “honoring” a parent or a child

means so much more than we might first think.

And so, Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”

And he explained that the fulfillment of the law rests in this:

“no greater love has a man than this,

to lay down his life for his friends.”

And he personally did that by laying down his life on the Cross,

for love of us, his friends and his family,

and love for all the world: his neighbors.

 

_____

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

Sometimes we think someone is not our neighbor,

and then we discover, yes they are.

Sometimes we think we’ve been loving our neighbor,

and then we discover, no we haven’t.

Sometimes we think other people are just strangers in a crowd,

and then we discover no, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

My dear neighbors, my dear brothers and sisters, my dear children in Christ,

as we kneel before the Lord who lays down his life for us in this Eucharist,

let us recognize and learn from his example of love:

the love of keeping his commandments, and the love of the Cross.

And as he comes to us in Holy Communion,

let us pray that the grace of this sacrament of the love of Jesus may

transform each of your families in his love,

unite all in this parish, and all Christians,

in the love of the one family of Christ, His Church,

and give each of us the courage to love everyone God brings

to us to care for, whether family, friend, foe or stranger.

 

And let us begin anew to dedicate our lives to our most high calling in Christ, to

“love the Lord, our God,

with all our hearts,…[souls],…strength, and …minds,

….and our neighbor as ourselves.”

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