Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday
Points to note
This is a lovely reading, which forms the crux of our Christian living. There is, however, a danger in not preparing well enough as the session could be very unfocussed.
There is little that is doctrinal in this passage. There is no complicated plot or allegory to unravel. All in all, there is little to explain. We ought to move on rather quickly to the practical aspects of loving. For this instance, we concentrate on loving God and the image of him as the head of the family.
Acclamation before the Gospel
Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.
Explain to the children that Jesus had just had to fend off attempts by the Jews to trap him. Remember the trap of the Pharisees last week with the coin? Saducees are a group of powerful Jews during Jesus’ times who do not believe in certain things like angels and the resurrection.
The Lord be with you.
All: And also with your spirit.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St Matthew
All: Glory to you O Lord
(Mt 22: 23-40)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, “Which is the greatest of the commandment of the Law?” Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Explain the setting: one by one, over the past few weeks, we had different groups of people coming to Jesus trying to trap him. This week it is the turn of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were people who were very strict about following the precepts and rituals of the Mosaic Law, as contained in the first five books of the Old Testament. They believe that salvation comes from strictly following the Law to the letter. So, from the Ten commandments, they expanded them to 637 commandments.
For instance, from the simple commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy, the Pharisees defined it that one should do no work on the Sabbath. Then to the question what constitute work, they came up with 39 prohibited categories. One of these categories is to carry something from one domain to another. So, what happens when someone’s cow fall into the ditch? Wouldn’t common sense dictate that they pull it out? But that would contravene the Law. Which is why Jesus asked this very question in Lk 14:5 and Mt 12:11. Which is why Pharisees disliked him.
So the trap set was like this: with 637 commandments, you can expect people to have very differing views as to which one is the favourite. So, ask Jesus to state which of the 637 is his favourite and watch him get bogged down with everyone disagreeing with him and trying to advance their own favourite.
Jesus, however, turned the tables on them by appealing to the more basic commandment, from which all these 637 spring: the commandment to Love. In Christianity, the injunction to love and mercy overrides everything else. It is just due to our human inadequacies that we are not always able to find an answer to love constantly in this complex modern human society. Love and mercy, while considered a virtue in most other religions, is obligatory in Christianity.
Do people like Pharisees still exist today – people who think applying the letter of the law is the key to salvation? Yes, of course. Modern Orthodox Jews have reinterpreted the commandments in the light of modern technology. For instance, another of the 39 prohibited categories for the Sabbath includes lighting and extinguishing fires. Now, how does a modern car start? Spark plugs and an internal combustion engine – they involve constant lighting and extinguishing fires. So, driving cars is prohibited for orthodox Jews on their Sabbath. Would you like to live like this?
The Islamic religion is also based on strict reading of the Quran. And some interpretation is more conservative than others. For instance, Muslims also have a story in the hadiths of an adulterous woman being brought to the Prophet for him to decide what to do with her. But unlike Jesus who forgave her, the Prophet instead ordered her to be stoned to death as that is what was stipulated in the Law.
Even Christians are not immune, with some fundamentalist Christians taking a very literalist view of what the scriptures says. Fro instance, there are churches that deny blood transfusions because of their reading of Old Testament passages.
So, in carrying out our religious duties, we must always remember that the injunction to love comes before anything else. Which is why Pope Francis has constantly highlighted the need for mercy in pastoral duty rather than a blind adherence to the letter of the laws of the Church. The Laws were made for us to help us love more. If the Laws to not enable us to love, then the Laws need to be relooked into.