Sunday Sermon for October 26, 2014, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40
In the second reading today St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for the way they received the Gospel and for the manner in which they lived it out. First he says that they received the Word in great affliction, then he reminds them that they became a model for all believers. In the midst of affliction the Word of God is like a balm in that it brings a sense of freedom and peace. It does not remove the affliction, but it allows those afflicted to see their struggles from a different perspective. Beyond this, it reminds us that Jesus came into this world and lived a life of affliction as well, so suffering people know that God is with them in the midst of their sorrows.
On the other hand, for those who live in affluence rather than affliction, the Word of God wounds rather than heals. It calls us to a greater and deeper conversion; it calls us to focus less on the worldly and material and more on the heavenly and spiritual. More than that, it calls us to unite ourselves with those who are being afflicted. In the first reading God told the Israelites about the necessity of having compassion for those who are suffering. The colloquial face of such people was represented by the widows and the orphans. The Lord says that if someone mistreats them, His wrath will flare up against such persons.
We have to consider this issue from both sides. I suspect that all of us have some kind of suffering or affliction in our lives. We have to ask if, in the midst of our trials, we are able to unite ourselves with the Lord in His suffering. Do we accept our difficulties with peace knowing that our Lord is there with us and we with Him? Sadly, most people do not do this because we are too focused on ourselves and not on the Lord. We tend to whine and complain about our problems; sometimes it might even seem as if we think we are more afflicted than anyone. The only recourse we have to God is to be angry at Him because he is allowing us to suffer.
We would really need to ask ourselves if St. Paul could tell others that the way we live our faith is a model for all believers. There are some good and holy souls who are great examples, but most of us, I suspect, would have to admit that we fall far short in the carrying of our crosses. We seem to forget or grossly downplay what the Lord endured from and for sinners. We forget that it is to the Cross, when He was lifted up from the earth, that we are to be drawn. Too many in our affluent society want to think that ease of life and material comfort are the way God blesses people. This is not the teaching of Jesus or His Apostles, but it is certainly more palatable than the truth.
What about our union with those who are afflicted? In our situation we have widows and orphans, although there are many more who are simply abandoned. We have a huge number of people without gainful employment. We have families who are struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, there are lots of welfare programs and other benefits that are designed to help people. There are many people who will take advantage of others and try to scam them. It has become difficult to tell who is truly in need these days and who is just trying to get whatever they can at someone else’s expense.
These things may be true, but we all know some people who truly are in need. What are we doing to help them? Beyond that, we have all been witnessing the horrific and barbaric events that have been occurring in the Middle East and in other places. We have all be told of the plagues ravaging the poor in Africa. We were all told about the blasphemous and sacrilegious events that happened last month in Oklahoma. Have any of these things touched our hearts? Have we been moved with compassion? I know that we cannot just hop on a plane and go somewhere to fix the problem, but have we prayed for those involved? Have we done anything to help?
In the Gospel our Lord reminds us that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love neighbor. We have had and continue to have opportunities to demonstrate this love. What was your reaction to the events in Oklahoma? What is your reaction to the injustices going on in the world? Love is the proper Christian reaction; faith expressed in love is the example St. Paul would commend.