Tag Archives: love of neighbor

Heart Surgery

True Bodily and Spiritual Enlightenment of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais, Paris, France). Licensed by Châtillon under CC-BY-SA-4.0

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14

After the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the five thousand, and numerous signs and wonders, Jesus was causing quite a stir. Without summoning, this ordinary son of a carpenter in Galilee compelled the most elite members of Israel to journey all the way from Jerusalem to ask him a question.

Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.”

The question was not about hygiene, but about the very foundations of Judaism. Levitical laws and tradition drew a sharp line between what was “clean” and “unclean,” and developed complex regulations for ceremonial washing in order to approach the all-holy God. Failure to comply with these rules gave the impression of impiety or sacrilege. 

Tunnel vision caused by prolonged squinting at the fine print of the law and centuries of accretions made the lawyers forget the basics. In large print, on tablets of stone, Moses had presented the Decalogue with natural precepts like, “Honor your father and your mother.” 

Legal sophistry found loopholes to avoid the care of elderly parents:

But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:5)

The Pharisees and scribes made it legal to dedicate money and property to the Temple with this unloving intention. God was being used. Such sophistries drove a wedge between love of God and love of neighbor. The first commandment was used to violate the second.

The divine physician had Israel on the operating table for heart surgery, without any anesthesia.

“Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15:7-9)

He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” 

Food and ceremonial laws were external rituals that did not reach the depths of the heart, our “hidden center… the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2563). The indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit is the human heart, the first place that must be cleansed and nourished. 

Deep, authentic conversion is an arduous process requiring painful heart surgery. Far easier is a program of superficial rituals that only cleanses the outside of the cup. Few have the courage to face themselves. 

Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Any law or practice that violates the single precept of love of God and love of neighbor “will be uprooted.” 

The Good Shepherd laid down his life to rescue the least lamb fallen into a pit, mangled alongside their blind shepherds in the hollow.

The scribes and Pharisees were to be let alone to respond to grace. As we are one Body in Christ, their heart surgery is our very own.

-GMC

Seeing the Least

 

We know Jesus Christ in the Gospels, but today’s reading tells us to find him where it’s hardest to see him–in “the least.” They would be the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner. The least are hard to see. Mother Teresa called them “Christ in disguise.” Like the blind in the gospels, we ask that we may see.

Lord Jesus Christ,

may I see you in my neighbor,

especially in those in need, who seem so unlike you.

with little charm or response,

sometimes ungrateful for interest or care.

May I love you in my neighbor, the neighbor hard to love

and find you in the least of them.

The Lenten Gospels

The gospels, along with other readings in our lenten Masses, offer a grace to those who follow them day by day. Take an overall look. You’ll notice the frequency of Matthew’s gospel  during the first three weeks, beginning with Ash Wednesday.  As the 4th week of lent begins, John’s gospel provides most of the weekday readings.

Matthew’s gospel was a favorite of the early church for teaching and catechesis. “The confession by Peter at Caesaria Philippi along with Jesus’ promise for his church, is the midpoint and highpoint of the gospel,” writes Rudolph Schnackenburg, and in this gospel Jesus, “the Christ and Son of the Living God” speaks to his disciples “ words of everlasting life.” Now he’s speaking to us.

We shouldn’t forget the gospel’s author is Matthew the tax collector, as the gospel for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us; so you might say that Jesus wants to speak to people like Matthew and his friends, not very observant keepers of the law, but outsiders and sinners. If you identify with them, welcome to the lenten season.

Jesus teaches us how to pray and how to think and live in this world. A number of the gospels early in lent treat of prayer. ( tuesday and thursday, 1st week) Besides talking to  God, we have to live with one another. On monday of the 1st week, Jesus issues a powerful warning in Matthew’s gospel about neglecting “the least,” and in the readings for friday and saturday of the 1st week, he tells us to love others, even our enemies.

The love Jesus calls for is not just acceptable or normal or even good;  it’s Godlike. Can any of us love like God?  But there’s no watering down his challenging, radical words that are addressed, not to a few,  but to us all.

Lent’s not meant to make us comfortable; it sets our sights on loving more, but it sets the bar higher than we like. Like the Olympic games, lent calls for our best, and more. A bigger prize than a gold medal is at stake.

The Great Commandments

Mk 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,”Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, Teacher,” the scribe says to Jesus, who spoke of loving God and loving neighbor.
He was among the representatives sent by the Roman-backed Jewish priestly leaders to discredit Jesus after his symbolic attach on the temple. Mark describes the attempts by the scribes–scholars skilled in religious matters –to trap Jesus in chapters 11 and 12 of his gospel.

But this scribe is different. The familiar words he’s heard so often seem to touch his heart as Jesus speaks them.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s more important than the temple sacrifice and worship you’re working to maintain.

There’s no evidence that the scribe left everything to follow Jesus, but he’s told he’s ‘not far from the kingdom of God.” What became of him, we wonder?

We may not be far from the scribes, though. We lose sight of what’s important too.  We get used to even the holiest things and defend ourselves with questions as they did.

Jesus engaged them, however. Will he not engage us this Lent, stirring our hearts, our souls, our minds, and renewing our strength with his truth?

Lord,
Let me hear your voice, your unfamiliar voice– I don’t listen to you enough.
Though unseen, you are always with me,
Though unrecognized, you care for me and all the world.
Feed me with the best of wheat and honey from the rock,
As once you led your people out of Egypt,
Lead us to your truth.