Living God's Gift
Jesus had the incredible ability to grab people’s attention and make them aware of something they hadn’t seen before. His ministry was about opening the hearts and minds of people yet he was often met by people who held onto things they weren't ready to let go of. They believed that their way of thinking and their way of doing things was the right way. Many people refused to see the God that Jesus tried to reveal.
Dear Brothers and Sisters
Jesus was often in conflict with the religious leaders of his time. The Gospels are filled with such confrontations - many of which we have heard in the past few Sundays. But it wasn’t just Jesus who struggled with the religious leaders, they had differences amongst themselves. One of the biggest differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that the Pharisees believed in life after death, the Sadducees didn't. In the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus had just been questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection.
Jesus sided with the Pharisees in their belief of life after death, and the crowds who listened were astonished. This must have been an insult to the Sadducees, so they tried to see if they could trip Jesus up on some kind of misunderstanding involving the law. You see, at that time there were 613 laws and each of these laws were considered equally binding. Whether it washing your hands before a meal or committing adultery, each infraction had the exact same consequence. Both were equally serious. If you failed to wash your hands you were out of the kingdom. Commit adultery? Out. Naturally all of these laws created fear, guilt and shame in the hearts and minds of the people. Certainly there must be one law that is more important than the other. The Saducees wanted to know and Jesus told them: The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, your mind and your soul. That was an answer they could understand and accept. But then Jesus added this: "Oh, and by the way, there’s a second law just like it. And it’s equal to it. What you have to do is love your neighbor as yourself." Bff! You see friends, in their way of life, with their system of laws, you loved people in the community who were perfect. If you weren’t perfect, well they didn’t feel obligated to love. People were rejected on the basis of their imperfection.
Lesson from Exodus
In our First Reading (Exodus 22:20-26), God revealed that he listens to the needs of his people. The poor and the outcasts of society have a special way of reaching his attention. He wants to take care of them. God cares about all of us and how we are treated. It’s kind of like the parent or teacher who gets angry when a child is threatened or mistreated. Where does the anger come from? Not from a desire to hurt someone else, but from an intense desire to take care of the child, the smaller and more vulnerable. God is that parent, that Father and he invites us to take care of each other. The physical world compared to the spiritual world. I sometimes wonder if people think that the spiritual world operates like the physical world: the more you do and the harder you work - the more successful you will be. Do we approach our spiritual work with that same attitude?
Do we sometimes think that the more we go to church, the more we volunteer and the more we donate the better we will be – spiritually? But when it comes to loving our neighbor are we really that good at it? Of course we can be nice to them. We don’t really want anything bad to happen to them. But really love them? Really love that jerk in your life? Really love someone who we think doesn't deserve it? Do we really love the outcast? It would be interesting to know what Mother Theresa would say about loving the outcasts. I could imagine it would be something like, "No, I can't do that. I can't love these outcasts myself. I am simply a vehicle, a vessel, of the love that God has for them." Mother Theresa was open to a Spirit of love, a divine love that is able to love not only the good but also the not so good – to love the victim as well as the abuser.
Lesson From St. Paul
In our Second Reading (1 Thess 1:5-10), Paul compliments the Christian community at Thessalonica. It was one of the very first communities which Paul established and he expressed gratitude for their faith. Paul talked of the spiritual life, saying it is shared by being around people who live the love that Jesus talks about in the gospel. It is a love that is not spoken but seen.
In answering the question of the Greatest Commandment, Jesus reveals that, how we live out the first, says something about our devotion to God. In loving our neighbors, all of them, we are living what Jesus taught: Love. And this is a love that is unconditional. A love that doesn’t expect ANYTHING in return. Just love. Are you frustrated with that crabby neighbor who lives across the hall? Don’t know what to do? Just love. The co worker who irritates you every other day? Don’t know what to do? Love him or her. Challenged with a know-it all teenager at home? Don’t know how to handle him or her? I think you get my point. This kind of love becomes contagious but it doesn’t happen on its own. It happens through grace. Grace is the key here my friends. Grace is the spirit that flows through you and me helping us to be the people we are called to be. Grace is the spirit that enables us to love ourselves the way God loves us. Grace is the key in being able to go out into the world and love others just the same. And when we see this grace at work in the lives of other people, it excites us in a way that makes us want to imitate it. That's what Paul talks about and it is up to us to go out and be a model for all those who believe.
Living the Gospel
The Season of Advent is a time to reflect on the past year. It begins in just a few shorts weeks. Advent is also a time to celebrate the love of God and the many gifts he has and continues to give us. It is a time to prepare for Christmas and the coming of Christ into the world. It is a time spent with family and loved ones. This year however will most likely be much different than in past years. For many people in the International community, it will be the first time that these holidays will be spent – not with family in other parts of the world, but here, at home in Switzerland. For us in the church, many of the traditions and celebrations we have planned for have been cancelled. We don’t know what the coming days or weeks will bring. We don’t know if our services will be cancelled again. It makes us sad but it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of finding new and different ways to bring Jesus into Christmas. It is a time of finding Jesus in the neighbors in your life. It can be a time of discovering Jesus in the stillness of a lockdown. It can be a time of letting God’s saving grace work in our lives as we try to live the two greatest commandments, this love that is not spoken but seen, and the love that Jesus talks about in the gospel.
As we meet this love in the Eucharist, let it grow and move inside of you and then take it out into the world. It is contagious.