Michael Barnes S.J.
30th Sunday of the Year
standard of relationship among the People themselves. Finally God himself will hear the cry of the oppressed for he is full of love and compassion: the People must imitate his example.
1 Thessalonians 1.5-10. But how to imitate God'? Paul had an easy answer. To the Corinthians he wrote, 'I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. I urge you, then. be imitators of me.'
His answer is far from being the arrogant boast which at first it appears to be, for Christianity is all about the way in which God's deepest revelation is made through a human life.
Paul imitates Christ, in his life and in his coming death; he lives in the fervent hope that he will also imitate him in his Resurrection.
This is the Gospel he proclaims; his life and the lives of all faithful Christians are its greatest witness.
This his Thessalonian friends know only too. well for 'you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word with much affliction. with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.'
Their example. of joy in the face of persecution, has spread the Word to believers in other parts of Greece.
So much so, in fact. that Paul finds he has nothing to add to their witness.
He ends the chapter with a brief statement of the faith: the worship of the one true God. rather than idols and human fictions. and salvation through a Son, Jesus of Nazareth, whom God has raised from the dead and who will himself come again to deliver the faithful 'from the wrath to come.'
Matthew 22.34-40. Last week Jesus dealt with the question of the Pharisees and Herodians about the tribute money.
Immediately afterwards he is approached by a group of Sadducees who ask him about the Resurrection of the dead.
Today the Pharisees return. Having heard that Jesus has silenced their great rivals they come together 'to test him'. 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?'
In Mark and Luke the question is more innocently put. a genuine enquiry about a point of academic discussion.
Jesus uses it as a sort of springboard to consider the implications of the commandment to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart ...' Hence in Luke the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Matthew, however, presents us with a whole series of minor plots, attempts to disconcert Jesus as his power and influence with the ordinary people seem inexorably to be growing.
Perhaps on this occasion they hoped to get a chance to challenge Jesus's claim to teach, and even reinterpret. the Law.
With their detailed knowledge of the texts they would have been quite happy to debate the relative importance of the sort of statues we heard about in the first reading.
Jesus, however, goes to the heart of the matter, to the principles involved in assessing God's Covenant and Law.
The greatest commandment is simply to love God. But there is a second which is 'like it' — 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself. This is a new teaching — not making up a new statute (in fact it conies from Leviticus 19.18) but putting the two commandments together and giving them equal weight.
For a Christian compassionate love and understanding, shown disinterestedly to those in need. are the most Godlike of all qualities.