Greetings on this the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: EX 22:20-26; PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 THES 1:5C-10; MT 22:34-40
Note: This 30th Sunday in Ordinary time homily is given at 9:00 AM Mass, The Mass is broadcast on the internet on both:
Now, three short thinking stories before I address the Gospel message.
There once was a preacher that had the smallest church of a certain city. Unfortunately the Church was severely burned by fire so as to be unusable. Being a small and poor community the preacher was forced to go and ask donations of the various faith communities of that city.
He made a meeting with the local Catholic Priest. “Father, would you help us rebuild our little Church.”
The priest replied, “I’m sorry, my friend. Canon law prohibits the use of Church funds to build a Church of other faiths.”
The preacher was crestfallen.
The priest continued, as he reached for the checkbook, “But I am able to help pay for the demolition of the Church”.
Building a Fence
Prior to the use of paper there were several ways in which documents were created. Cuneiforms and Parchment. For the Jewish people the use of parchment was preferable. Rabbis and Scribes would write and annotate sacred Scripture on these parchments.
In time it became necessary to build a fence around the Torah. To build a fence around the Torah has two specific meanings.
The first is it is a teaching device that is used to help people to avoid sin. Even within sacred Scripture itself we see the fence. The idea is to create concentric prohibitions around a central commandment. This way a person knows they are coming close to committing a sin. It is said Jesus himself used this technique when preaching. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount provides a three concentric circle of lesser behaviors that lead toward murder (being angry, being insulting, character attacks). See also (Deuteronomy 22:8).
The second has to do with Scribes and Rabbis. Each according to his inspiration would make annotations on the sacred Scripture. At first the writing was from edge to edge and top to bottom so the annotations could only be made in-line. Over time these annotations, good and useful insights, made their way into the next set of scrolls to be made from the one he annotated. Not good.
So the scribes began to create the scrolls with clear margins on either side, top / bottom leaving a place for the insights and comments. Sometimes they would draw actual lines (fences) as a box around the sacred Scripture so as to protect its meaning and purity. Later when codex came about even pictures were made around the text so that there would be white space, illustration surrounding the Torah and the script in the middle undisturbed.
The liturgy of the Haftarah is an evolved practice. Haftarah literal translation means “taking leave”. Haftarah readings from the books of Nevi’im (“Prophets”) after the reading from the Torah (Pentateuch). The Torah is the principle truth of the Jewish faith. The first five books of the Hebrew bible it contains the ancient tradition of prehistory, the Exodus Event, the sacrificial system, and the moral or civil code of behavior. It is extremely important.
Even so, they “take leave” to read from the Prophets. The prophets bring a different perspective to the question of the common life. The prophets looked at societal behavior and the moral/immoral acts of the leadership and the powerful. In particular interest today is that the Prophets reveal the pathos of God. The prophets reveal God’s feelings. His pain, his joy, his pleasure and his disappointments.
If the Law tells us how to worship and how to act between and among one another then the Prophets tell us how God is affected by our actions. Or to say another way, “Look what you have done to your Mother!”
When Jesus arrived on the scene, the practice of haftarah was a well-established practice.
The first reading from Exodus contains the two sense described above. Firstly, what we are to do and not do. The second, the response and feelings of the Almighty:
- You “Shall Not” three times and “You Shall” once.
- God will hear – twice, have wrath, compassion – once each.
Some might be tempted to say, “Not interest did I charge but a fee.”
When Jesus replied to the question of which is the greatest commandment(s), he added this to the reply.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
The Law (Torah) and the Prophets = haftarah. The entirety of worship practice, societal norms and moral behavior depends upon the commandments of Love.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16). He died during the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE.
The Pharisaic overdevelopment of minor laws was a sore point for Jesus. They have lost the connection between the weightier matters of Law and the life of the people.
Pope Francis elevated to the Seat of Peter on March 13, 2013. Throughout he uses phrases like Mercy and Journey Together. We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. In 2015, during the Family Synod, warned against a temptation to practice a “spirituality of illusion” that ignores people’s struggles or sees things only as we wish them to be.
- Spiritual Illusions
Bringing back the first stories:
- We need to help others rebuild their lives somehow or another. We cannot leave their lives in ruins (provide for the needs of others even if we are in opposition to them/beatitudes).
- We need to write in the margins of sacred Scripture keeping the Torah intact yet adding our thoughts and issues (build a fence/theologians).
- We need to focus less on law and more on the pathos of God and His mercy (Haftarah/Pope Francis).
- We need to make and keep central commandments: (Jesus Christ, Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel)
- You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
- This is the greatest and the first commandment.
- The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
The whole of humanity depends upon this.
Peace be with you,