Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 23 October 2011
Exodus 22:20-26 (21-27); Psalm 18:1-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
To the extent that we love God with all our being and doing, and love our fellow human beings as ourselves, we fulfill our God-given obligations. Jesus’ summary of the law into these two principles points to love as the criterion by which we can evaluate our actions and commitments, individually and communally.
Love isn’t a mushy feeling, but a profound commitment that affects what we do. The Law of Moses spelled it out in very concrete terms: If we are not committed to social justice, then we do not love our neighbor. Simple. God’s people were warned not to take advantage of the outsider, the vulnerable and the marginalized, because God is particularly attentive to their prayers. To act against them is to anger God. Not many of us could callously wrong someone to their face, but there are more subtle ways to take advantage of the alien, widow and orphan. Does our democratic vote go to those who uphold the rights of the poorest, or to those who ignore them and pander to the wealthy and powerful? Do we support organizations which empower the poor, or which exploit them? We can’t love people we deliberately avoid. Do we turn a blind eye to the strangers in our midst? I am impressed by the work of Social Justice Ireland, a prophetic voice reminding the decision-makers in this present economic crisis that national budgets are informed by values and commitments, and that these are neither neutral nor inevitable. Power used to the advantage of the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable is always unjust and violates God’s will, irrespective of whether it is legal.
In the opening lines of psalm 18 we declare our love for the God who strengthens, protects and delivers us. The young Christian Church in Thessalonica had experienced that. Despite opposition from the powers in the city they knew the joy of God. It is nice to think of ourselves as protected by the living and true God. The reading from Exodus, though, should give us pause. The humble who cry out to God can name God as their rock of refuge and their deliverer. The one who takes advantage of the poor is not invited into this experience of God. The powerful usually build their own fortresses. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This is a psalm of David, the king. Consider the potential for good that there is when the powerful act in love and on behalf of the powerless. Consider how much more good is done when those with power, loving their disempowered neighbours as themselves, don’t just act on their behalf but actually empower them. That is love.