Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2011
Exodus 22: 20-26
1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10
Gospel of Matthew 22: 34-40
“Several excuses are always less convincing than one.” – Aldous Huxley
I remember the day well. The sky was a prison of gray as I battled the blues. Nothing – well almost nothing – was going right. Fortunately, or unfortunately, perhaps, my experience here is limited. I should be thankful. I am. Meanwhile, WYSU’s announcer sounded a familiar yet contemptible forecast. Blandly consistent, it called for showers Monday, showers Tuesday, showers Wednesday. You get the message. And the good news, if you want to call it that, was the possibility of showers?
“Ah, shut up,” I lashed out. You know, the idea of talking to your TV, radio, computer, whatever it is, as if that certain someone is really getting an earful. At least it is better than breaking something, or doing bodily harm. It is irrational, I know, like talking or screaming at a ball player when your team is losing. That’s what it means to vent. And Lord knows we all need to vent at times. This was my time.
Then I got an idea. Why not look for examples of caring and compassion – whether shown to me or someone else – as I experienced them throughout my day. They might be the briefest of encounters, or not. Whether with words or gestures, or both, the only requirement was that they seemed sincere and not robotic. By the end of the day, I had tallied up a whopping 47 such encounters. Not bad! In fact, downright encouraging. The soggy day went just as predicted, but my spirits were making a comeback.
People do make the difference, don’t they? Life, though, is a package deal, and not everyone is strategically located for our spirits to soar with the eagles. We work with or otherwise encounter people every day who hardly affect us. Many, however, have a greater impact. They either lift us up or drag us down. Recall David Goehring’s story of Dave and Larry. Dave irritated everyone in his office. Whether it was the tone of his voice or his condescending attitude, everyone stayed clear of him. He must have suspected he was annoying and hard to work with. Then one day he asked his co-worker Larry, who could tolerate him better than others, “Why does everybody take an instant dislike to me?” Larry told him directly, “It just saves time.”
People, that’s right, people – whether difficult or not, of whatever temperament – were front and center when the Lord answered yet another question from the Pharisees. Like the others, it was designed to entrap and discredit Him. They ask which law is greatest. Jesus’ answer is clear, concise and unique. He takes the venerable Jewish law of Deuteronomy 6:5 and makes it equal to the law found in Leviticus 19:18. The result is a breathtaking challenge that makes our love of neighbor the true test for our love of God. We’re all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) and so Jesus can tell them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…….You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). They wanted Him to choose between the two. Instead, he combined the two. They became inseparable and still are to this day.
We still have a hard time wrapping our minds and hearts around this truth. I recall that years ago – how I wish I were making this up – two men came to blows after Sunday Mass. Their heated exchange escalated to insults and worse as they argued. It was a miracle neither one landed in the hospital. And to think they were arguing over, of all things, girl altar servers. That’s right! No doubt, the angels shook their heads as they beheld such breathless ignorance.
It’s obvious Jesus has other priorities for us. And with the grace of God, they will be ours as well. Our lives, if not our words, must speak loudly. No excuses given, none needed, and none accepted.
Father Walker is pastor of Warren St. James and SS. Cyril & Methodius parishes and chaplain at ValleyCare Health System/Trumbull Memorial Hospital. Write him at 185 Laird Ave., Warren OH 44483 or e-mail