Monday March 11, 2019

Love of Neighbor – Encountering God in People

It is striking how the Bible insists, even in the Old Testament, that God is present where people love one another and do the works of mercy to one another. What we do to others is done to God. The Old Testament stressed love specially in regard to members of the chosen people, who were all to be considered as blood relatives, without excluding non-Jews. The New Testament extends this clearly not only to members of the people of God, but also to all people. The kingdom of God is present where people treat one another as brothers and sisters. Those belonging to the People of God have to bear witness to all that love exists and is alive, and therefore that God exists and is alive, by their love, particularly by their respect and concern for the weak and the fragile ones. It is by love of neighbor that we will be judged.

Opening Prayer
Lord, holy God, loving Father,
you give us the task to love one another
because you are holy
and you have loved us before we could love you.
Give us the ability to recognize your Son
in our brothers and sisters far and near.
Make us witnesses that love exists and is alive
and that you, the God of love,
exist and are alive now for ever.

Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
The LORD said to Moses,
"Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

"You shall not steal.
You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another.
You shall not swear falsely by my name,v thus profaning the name of your God.
I am the LORD.

"You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD. 

"You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake.
I am the LORD.

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."

Responsorial Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15
R. (John 6:63b) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

Verse before the Gospel: 2 Corinthians 6:2B
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him. 
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'
Then they will answer and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.'
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."

– For the many hungry for food and human dignity, that those who have more may provide them with what they need, we pray:
– For strangers and aliens, that we may accept them with all their differences, we pray:
– For the sick and for prisoners, people who are rarely visited, that we may show them our compassion and concern, we pray:

“What you do to the least of my brothers, you have done to me,” the Lord said to us today. This is a beautiful task, but it is difficult. May God bless you for it, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We have no trouble understanding the validity of the norms set forth today in Leviticus. The sinfulness of stealing, swearing falsely, defrauding, or being dishonest is something of which we are well aware. They are basic norms of morality, important for any Hebrew to observe in his daily community dealings. Their applicability to our own lives is equally clear.
However, the move to the Gospel teaching represents a quantum leap. This is not a question of harm done to anyone but is rather a question of doing good. This is the heart of the Christian ethic, as captured so well in the Sermon on the Mount. Is any person in need (whether a member of the Christian community or not) to be ignored? It is not a question of avoiding injury but rather of being present to anyone in need. This may mean food, clothing, or comfort. The word compassion means “to suffer with.” And it is on that subject that the final judgment dwells.
The word today could not be clearer. Our personal lives, as well as the life of society itself, are kept at a high level if these norms of charity are observed. It is not that we neglect other teachings, it is just that we want to give Matthew 25 a high priority. The emphasis of Lent is on the importance of the “now.” Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.
Charity delayed is charity denied.
“Lord help us to judge rightly.” Much of our moral life is centered on the Ten Commandments. We review them before reconciliation and our act of contrition. But today’s Gospel has pointed out our authentic calling. Behold these Christians, how they love on another. Give us the light to see.