30stSUNDAY in ORDINARY TIME – A – October 29, 2017 br. Daniël[Ex 22:20-26; 1Thess1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40]
Jesus is involved in a series of debates with the Jewish religious leaders. As soon as the Pharisees learn that Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, one of them comes up with a new question: ‘Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ As a good Jew, Jesus begins by quoting the most fundamental one: ‘Love God with all your capacities, heart, soul and mind’. However, Jesus immediately attaches to this the commandment of love for the neighbor, as being one and the same with the commandment of love for God. Indeed, it is impossible to love God without loving the neighbor. The Evangelist Mark has a parallel text in which this story has an interesting epilogue. The same Pharisee who – according to Matthew – tries to put Jesus to the test, gets so deeply impressed by Jesus’ answer that he exclaims: ‘Exactly Master, you have said it very well!’ And Jesus, seeing that his interlocutor has opened his heart, replies: ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’. Not all Jewish Pharisees were as bad as our traditional picture suggests. Besides, in the Rabbinic tradition vivid debates with sophisticated questions about the Torah were quite normal. Usually, the intentions were not bad. The purpose was: challenging one another to penetrate into the unfathomable depth of the Sacred Text. However, this traditional game assumes an evil character when some are questioning Jesus just to find a pretext for sueing him and having him put to death. In such a case, religion becomes an aggressive hypocrisy aiming at destruction because of mere power. Nevertheless, we should correct the traditional picture of ‘the Pharisee’: in Mark we see that the dialogue is held in an atmosphere of mutual respect beyond separating boundaries. This brings us to the theme of respect, also concerning what seems to be strange in different religions and cultures. In the first reading we heard the commandment of respect towards the stranger, ‘for you were once strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt’. Without denying our Christian roots, love for the neighbor requires to open our hearts also for strangers. Not always easy, especially today, as our Christian faith is rapidly losing its influence upon society and other religions are playing a more important role, especially the Islam. However, Xenophobia is not the answer. Also the Islam, originally, is a tolerant religion, just like Christianity, in spite of all violence happening in its name. In the Koran, in fact, the second Soera says: ‘Those who adhere to the Jewish faith, as well as the Christians who believe in God and in the Last Day, who are acting by virtue, will have their reward from their Lord; they will have nothing to fear and will not be saddened’. And a little further, the same Koran even refers to the Covenant of God with the Israelites: ‘You shall serve God only. Be good for your parents, your relatives, the orphans and the needy’. Thus, two Islamitic passages that come very close to our readings of today: respect for the stranger and justice to those who cannot defend themselves.
But today’s Gospel also invites us to remain close to ourselves. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. We need a healthy amount of self-love to be able to love others. We should not just open our hearts for others and strangers without being in touch with our innermost self. ‘Know yourself’. A humble self-acceptance, as a fruit of sincere search for God, is a condition to make love possible for our neighbor. Love for God, our Creator, and love for the neighbor are the two sides of one and the same medal. A heart can be open for strangers only to the extent to which it is at home with itself. May this be for us the basis of an authentic religion, coming from a heart that includes all people – notwithstanding their origins – as children of one and the same God.