Homily for the 30th Sunday of Year A

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Love, in the words of a popular 1960’s song, ‘makes the world go round’.  The famous American novelist, Arthur Miller, underlined the importance of love when he wrote: The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough is love.’  Love is the greatest of the commandments, the mother of all the virtues, and the pulsating heart of the Christian message. We are created in the image of a God who is Love; so we cannot live without love. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘The human being aspires to love and to be loved. This is our deepest aspiration: to love and be loved; and definitively.’ We can all say with St Paul, ‘Without love, I am nothing’ (1Cor 13:2).

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asks Jesus to identify ‘the greatest commandment of the Law’ (Mt 22:36).  In response, Jesus quotes the great shema prayer recited daily by all devout Jews (cf. Deut 6:4-5). This prayer exhorts us to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. Jesus immediately adds a second commandment, familiar to his audience (cf. Deut 6:4-5), namely, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mt 22:39).  As the First Letter of John makes clear, love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable, two sides of the same coin:  ‘Let us love one another since love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is Love’ (1Jn 4: 7-8).

The prophets spoke of the God of Israel (Yahweh) as a God of ‘faithful love’ (hesed), a God who always keeps his promises: ‘I have loved your with an everlasting love and therefore I am constant in my affection for you’ (Jer 31:3). God’s love is both constant and universal; it is for all creatures, and it is especially the poor and defenceless.  Here is the foundation of the Lord’s command [in our first reading today] to the people of Israel to show mercy to strangers, widows, and orphans (cf. Ex 22:20–22). God’s love is manifested supremely in Jesus Christ, the human face of the God of love.  When the Apostle Philip asked Jesus to reveal the face of the Father, Jesus replies ‘To see me is to see the Father’ (Jn 14:10). Jesus was sent by the Father so that we would see and know the depth of the Father’s ever faithful and unconditional love, a love that ultimately led him to give his life for us. 

Sadly, the word ‘love’ is so overused in contemporary discourse that it has lost much of its meaning. We speak of love of work, love of country, love of sport, love of food, love between friends, love of parents for their children, romantic love, etc. There are indeed many kinds and forms of love. In his first encyclical letter, God is Love, Pope Benedict XVI distinguishes three main kinds of love: eros, the spontaneous attraction between a man and woman that tends towards union; philia, the mutual love that exists between friends; and agape or self-less and self-sacrificing love, supremely manifested in Jesus Christ. While these three forms of love may be distinguished, they must not be separated. Any love worthy of the name involves a costly process of growth from the search for self, to the surrender of self for the sake of others.  Writing about erotic or romantic love in his famous novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the English novelist, Louis de Bernières, states: ‘Love is not breathlessness. It is not excitement. It is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being-in-love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being-in-love has burned away.’

Genuine love is manifested in action; it is practical and outgoing. In the words of St Augustine: ‘It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of people.’ Such love is demanding. It summons us to leave our comfort zones, to give our time, our energy, our talents, and, indeed, our very selves to others. And to do this not just when we feel in good form good or for a short time, but to do it in season and out of season, in good times and bad, until, in the words of St Paul, our life has been ‘poured out like a libation’ (2 Tim 4:6).

The manner in which the early Christians understood and lived the great commandment of love is illustrated by the testimony of a second century philosopher, Aristides. Writing to the Emperor Hadrian in defence of the Christians he stated that: ‘Christians love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them.  If one member of the community has something, he gives freely to those who have nothing…. There is something divine in them.’ Through their experience of the Risen Christ and the outpouring of his Spirit, the first followers of Jesus had left behind the darkness of night and emerged into the dawning light of God’s love – a love that transformed their lives utterly. May the celebration of this Eucharist strengthen us as we strive to imitate the example of the early Christians and love others as God loves us.

Fr Michael McCabe SMA

To listen to an alternative Homily for this Sunday, from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.

Previous articleMission Saturday – A reflection for the Month of Mission 2023
Next articleMoving tribute from a new bishop to his father