Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: Loving God and Loving Your Neighbour as Yourself
By: Fr. Luke Ijezie
Exod 22:21-27; Psalm 18:2-4.47.51; 1Thess 1:5-10; Matt 22:34-40
1. These are turbulent times in our country, Nigeria. The violence we have recently witnessed and still witnessing, caused by both perceptions of injustice and unrestrained emotions of hatred and malice, all make the message of love in this Sunday’s readings very apt and topical. Loving God with the whole being is what many of us claim to do, but the real challenge is in translating this into love for the neighbour and loving this other as we love ourselves. Jesus presents this love as the greatest and sum of all the Commandments. The difficulty of loving the other as we love ourselves is where we fail most, and there lies the root of our problems.
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2. The first reading from Exodus 22:21-27 presents practical areas where loving others as we love ourselves is most felt. The text identifies four classes of people in the society who are easy victims of oppression and marginalization. These are: the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor. In the ancient traditional society, these groups were often denied their rights. The situation is not much changed in the contemporary society, despite its claimed development and enlightenment. In our Nigerian society, which remains largely traditional, these groups suffer terribly. The text of Exod 22 makes it a law to treat them well, and this is one of the oldest legal codes in the Bible.
3. The stranger must be treated well with both sympathy and empathy. While sympathy involves being concerned about the other’s feelings of pain, empathy goes deeper to feel as if we were the ones having the pains. In relating to the stranger, the Israelites must remember that they themselves were once strangers in a foreign land. The problem we have sometimes is that we often forget that in one way or the other we are all strangers. In many communities, strangers are not only denied their basic rights, they are maltreated and exploited. Many of our communal conflicts and increasing national mutual distrusts emanate from the fear of difference and inability to accept the other as a brother or sister.
We often heap stereotypes on strangers or migrants in order to justify our maltreatment of them. Much of our ethnic or clannish parochialism has its roots in this refusal or inability to accept the stranger. It is contrary to the claimed real African spirit of brotherliness. How wonderful our society would be if this antagonism towards strangers is abolished. Sometimes, we pretend to be welcoming to strangers, as longer as they don’t claim any rights, but immediately they begin to demand the good things we enjoy exclusively, the trouble begins.
4. The other classes of the oppressed are the widow and the orphan. Widows are easy targets of oppression because they are usually regarded as strangers or aliens in their husbands’ families. The widow is often deprived of her right to her husband’s property, as this accrues to the husband’s brothers. This is most so when the widow has no male inheritor. The widow thus remains very poor and downtrodden. God calls Himself the Husband of the widow and imposes terrible threats on all who oppress widows. The same applies to orphans. God regards Himself as the Father of the fatherless. In the Bible, orphans are not only those who have lost both parents but, most importantly, those who have lost their father. Such people, especially when they are still very young, are often disinherited by more powerful and greedy uncles. God, thus, threatens the oppressors as He remains the Father of the fatherless.
The fourth group are the poor. The Bible describes them as the needy and the afflicted (the anawwim in Hebrew). They often depend for their existence on borrowing, and in this they are terribly exploited and often reduced to slavery. When such people cry to God in their pain and oppressed condition, He quickly hears and their oppressors never go unpunished. All these are great warnings on our reckless attitude towards those who live on the margins and social periphery.
5. The recognition of the true meaning of love depends so much on real conversion to the true God. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about this conversion in the Second reading. People must turn from the old ways of Idol worship to embrace the new religion of love in Jesus.
6. The emphasis on love of God and love of neighbour in the Gospel of today from Matt 22:34-40 makes it clear that this is the only way of being not just a follower of Jesus, but a true worshipper of God. It means that we cannot claim to worship God if we are unable to love our fellow human beings. This is very relevant in our contemporary Nigerian society where the preachers of hate presently seem to outnumber the preachers of love.
Sometimes, we reserve our love only for those who agree with us or only for those who belong to our party and clan. The word of God challenges us to broaden our vision and understand the real God we worship within the context of loving all His creatures without discrimination.
May God bless us as we love!
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