The 20th-century Dutch Catholic priest, Fr. Henri Nouwen, noted that “we should pay attention to the people God puts in our path if we want to discern what God is up to in our lives.”
How many of us sit in awe and wonder regarding the pathways that God has granted us? The most obvious, of course, is that we are alive! God has granted us the gift of life and wills that we do something with it. Yes, each day, we are sustained by His very breathe and given opportunities to be with our families, friends, co-workers, and community. Again, what do we do with them?
The Scriptures given us on this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time bear this out. In the Book of Exodus (22:20-26), we are reminded of our responsibility to those in need. “If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”
Regarding compassion, St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (1:5-10), reminds his brothers and sisters of the behavior that has been modeled for them while commending them for passing on that compassion and love to believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
The 14th-century doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, once reflected:
A soul cannot live without loving. It must have something to love, for it was created in love.
In the Gospel of Matthew (22:34-40), it is this understanding of love which Jesus confronts the Pharisees. For these religious leaders, as we see, love of God has become an exercise in keeping the “rules of God,” those 613 commandments set forth in the Torah. In his confrontation with them, Jesus acknowledges the Pharisees’ faithfulness in keeping to the “minutiae of the many” while condensing them down to only two: love of God and love of neighbor. And in doing so, He puts them on the spot, so to speak, and condemns them for their indifference and lack of compassion and love for their neighbor on the pathways of life that He has granted them.
While two millennia separate us from Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, our Lord’s message and mission to love remains crystal clear: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 John 4:11)