After looking at our first reading from Exodus, where God tells the people not to "molest or oppress an alien," not to "wrong any widow or orphan," and not to "act like an extortioner" towards the poor, I confess that two things immediately came to my mind: the immigration law in Alabama, and the "Occupy Wall Street" protests going on in cities around the world.
However one may look at the immigration issue, this admonition from God should restrain us from violence or hatred towards those who come here, and those who help them, whether they are legal or not. And while it’s important not to condemn the "1%" (the richest among us) simply because they are rich, what we hear in our reading from Exodus should remind us that we are to be as mindful of the poor as God is mindful of them. The people mentioned in our reading are people who have no "clout" in the world. Rarely, if at all, do they have influence over what other people decide about them. And so, the reading from Exodus reminds us that even though they may not have any access to those who have worldly power, they have access to God.
That is something to remember when we hear Jesus’ answer to the question posed to Him by a scholar of the law: "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus replies: "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." What do these commandments really mean?
I see Jesus’ commandment to love as the driving force behind the call to justice. The Gospel calls us to treat everyone with dignity and respect as children of God, and that people should have a say in what happens to them. The Gospel calls us to work toward making a world in which there is no one in need; no one without food or shelter or clothing or education or medical assistance or at least the opportunity to realize their full potential. Those who are blessed with wealth and power are to use them toward this end.
The commandment to love is meant to guide all aspects of our lives. And we can trust that God will give us what we need to love as Jesus loves.
May God continue to bless us all, and may our ears be attuned to the cries of those in need.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.