Reflection on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Ex. 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5c-10; Mt. 22:34-40.
The verb “love” does not appear in the Torah until Dt. 6:5 in the great “Shema”: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” In the New Testament, St. Mark will add “with all your mind”. For many, love is a feeling, an affection. But Deuteronomy talks not of affective love but of effective love. To love God is to “keep his commandments” (Dt 7:9; 30:16). The second requisite of this love is “walking in his ways” (Dt 8:6; 19:9; 30:16). “To love and serve the Lord your God” must go hand in hand (Dt. 10:12 & 11:13). Loving God also meant “heeding his voice” (Dt 30:2, 20). Most of all, I love the Lord my God by “holding fast to him”, by “clinging to him” no matter what, in sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer (Dt 13:5; 30:20). Does my love for my Lord and God have these qualities? Many times, when sickness or financial crash comes, we question God or doubt his love and care. The Torah, however, tells us to cling to him, no matter what (kapit tuko sa Panginoon).
The second part of the commandment is found in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The first to note is what Exodus (22:21-23) in our first reading says. It is a strong threat from God himself: “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows and your children orphans.” Oppression, molestation, and bullying are clearly against God’s command to love the neighbor, and yet these continue to happen in our midst. A beautiful instruction is contained in Dt 24: 19-22 and it is worth quoting here: “When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the Lord, your God may bless you in all your under-takings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” As I go home with a bountiful harvest from the field, or a big bonus from my job, or a big profit from a sale, have I thought of giving a share to the less fortunate?
This love for neighbor was extended to the alien in Lev 19:33-34, “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; love him as yourself, for you too were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
We are wont to think that love for enemy is given only in the New Testament when Jesus says in Mt 5:44, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Surprisingly, we already find in Ex 23:4-5 a helpful attitude towards someone who hates us: “When you come upon your enemy’s ox or ass going astray, see to it that it is returned to him. When you notice the ass of one who hates you lying prostrate under a burden, by no means desert him; help him, rather, to raise it up.” If I cannot love my enemy, I am still commanded to help him and not allow him to be overburdened or endangered. Thus it was even in the Old Testament. When Jesus comes the command would start with the Lord’s Prayer: “as we forgive those who trespass against us” culminating with a new command- ment at the Last Supper: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), i.e., dying for the other. Therefore, our love for God and neighbor must not remain in sighs and tears and murmuring sweet nothings to God or to our loved ones. It must be translated into action seeking God’s will in everything we do for Him and for our neighbor. God seeks not so much affective love as effective love.