"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
October 23, 2011: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Exodus 22:20-26
Synopsis: The reading from Exodus is part of what is called “the book of the covenant” (Ex 20-23). It comes right after the Ten Commandments and specifies how the relationship between God and his people is to be lived out. Nearly all the commandments have to do with social relations such as how slaves should be treated, how property disputes should be resolved and how to deal with accidental deaths and injuries.
This week’s first reading focuses on the most vulnerable members of society. Israel is to show kindness to widows and orphans, aliens and the poor because God had shown kindness to them. How we treat others, especially the weakest members of society, expresses our faith in God.
In our second reading Paul praises the Thessalonians for their strong faith and evident joy, which was well known throughout the region. Having “turned to God from idols” Thessalonica was a model church.
In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus responds to a Pharisee who asked him, “Which commandment in the law is greatest?” Jesus responds with the Great Commandment. The rabbis had identified a total of 613 commandments (mitzvot) in the Torah, or Law of Moses, so the Pharisee’s question is understandable. Jesus’ response is not entirely original, for he is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. But by linking them together Jesus declares that you can’t have one without the other. The order is important, too.
The love of God comes first, for if we truly love God with “all our heart, soul and mind” the love of neighbor will follow naturally. In other words, the vertical beam of the cross (our relationship with God) supports the horizontal beam (our social relations)—not the other way around.
Key verse: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-38).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear” (Nos. 1965, 1972).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Charity is the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelled out by that doctrine is derived from charity, which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law” (“Charity in Truth,” 2).
Life application: Compassion and kindness aren’t just private matters; they are values that should be reflected in our local communities, the state and the nation. A nation’s real net worth isn’t determined by its GDP or the stock market, but by how it treats the weakest and most defenseless members of society. A good society (or a good government) is one that makes it easy for people to be good. Freedom of religion means the freedom to serve God, and the freedom to serve God means the freedom to serve orphans and widows, aliens and strangers, the sick and the poor without interference from the state.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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