Sunday Sermon for July 14, 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Deut 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37
Toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses pleads with the people of Israel: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord your God…” It was the failure of the people to follow the commandments of the Lord that led them into exile. In fact, chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy lay out the blessings for following the Law and the curses for failing to follow the Law.
This plea of Moses to heed the voice of the Lord has rung in the ears and hearts of the Jewish people for over 3500 years. However, it is not a challenge only to the Jews, but to Christians as well. When people today read Deuteronomy 27 and 28, they quickly recognize that these blessings and curses were not limited to the Jewish people living three millenia ago; they remain true for us today.
One might be tempted to think the people would have obeyed the Law if they knew it better. The response to this is also given in the first reading today when Moses tells the people that God’s command is not too mysterious or remote for them. He goes on to tells them: “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
This may have seemed very strange to the Israelites, especially since the Law had so many precepts regarding external behaviors and ritual requirements. However, in the Gospel reading today we see that the Jewish people had a good understanding of what Moses meant. When Jesus asks the scholar of the Law how he reads the Law, the man replies by reciting the commandments to love God and love neighbor. While both of these commandments require some external actions, the point is that they are to flow from the heart.
Jesus Himself reiterated this when He told us we are to love God and neighbor. However, we are held to a higher accountability than the Jewish people because of our relationship with God. As His children we are to love Him; our love will be expressed in service but, as we saw above, it must come from the heart and not be empty gestures.
Our Lord did not just tell us what to do; He did it Himself and, thereby, gives us an example of what it looks like to love God and neighbor with one’s whole heart, and soul, and strength. As St. Paul points out in the second reading, Jesus is preeminent in all things and He has reconciled all things and made peace by the Blood of the Cross. In other words, He commanded us to love, He provided us with the example of what that looks like, and He has removed any obstacles that may have been in the way of our ability to do what He commanded.
We have to be clear in our understanding: what our Lord did on the Cross is a perfect act of love for God and for us; however, everything He did in His life was a perfect act of love for God and for us. Sometimes we think that in order to fulfill the New Commandment of love it will require the Cross. All that is required is that we die to self in order to serve the other. As it was in the life Jesus, so it must be with us: everything we do must be done in love.
We come back to the counsel of Moses: this command is not too mysterious or remote for us, it is already in our hearts; all we have to do is carry it out. The natural ability to love is present within us and the grace of God to allow us to love in a supernatural way is also within us. Unfortunately, our inclination toward selfishness is also very much present and often wins out over our desire to love.
We also have to keep in mind our Lord’s instructions that we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. It is difficult to get the selfishness out of the way when we are trying to love God and the people who love us. It is far more difficult to have a pure intention of love toward someone who has hurt us or persecuted us. It helps when we can see everyone as our neighbor. It is necessary for us to look into our hearts because we can put up an external facade of kindness even though what is in our hearts may not be very kind. So, we want to do the right thing with the right intention. This is not too hard for us; it is what we were created to do: love God and love neighbor!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.