1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Our Sunday readings invite us to the core of our call as Christians-a core firmly rooted in our Jewish heritage. The first reading from the book of Exodus provides some of the Jewish code of behavior and ethic, a code that is clearly grounded in compassion. In Jewish tradition and practice, the 613 laws that make up the Covenant ensure Israel’s relationship with their God. A few years back I joined a Torah study group at a local synagogue to learn more about this tradition. What I learned from my experience was that the Law is fundamentally our response to the goodness of God. To reach that knowledge, I was posed with question upon question. Every time I answered a question, my Rabbi would present me with a new question. The posing of questions is clearly foundational to Jewish pedagogy.
In today’s Gospel from Mathew (our most Jewish Gospel), Jesus is presented with the most challenging question of all-he is asked to choose the most important of the commandments. This incident in the life of Jesus appears (with nuances) in all of the Synoptic Gospels. For Jesus, the greatest commandment is expressed in the unity of two-the love of God and love of neighbor as one loves self. To summarize the crux of Jesus’ response, I am reminded of the words of Bishop Gordon Bennett (a native of my region of Southern California) who states frequently in his preaching on the Christian journey, "The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart." The Bishop always pauses in reverence after saying this line…and then slowly repeats it again, "The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart."
After my mother passed away, my father purchased a condominium and the seller was a wonderful Jewish couple. Visitors to my father’s home, aware of his deep Catholic faith, always ask if he is going to remove the mezuzahs that adorn his front door and that of his master bedroom. My father always responds that he is delighted to have these prayerful reminders of our relationship to God and the Jewish roots of our faith. Indeed, the Shema, the confession of love for God, is a beautiful meditation for all of us.
In Richard Rohr’s new book "Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality", he states "How we relate to God always reveals how we will relate to people, and how we relate to people is an almost infallible indicator of how we relate to God and let God relate to us."
What we learn today from the wisdom of Jesus is that the core of our faith must be the triad of loving relationship that we are called to embrace-the love of God-the love of neighbor-and the love of self. This is the same love that St. Paul is calling the Thessalonian Christians to embrace. What a beautiful and challenging dance of love it is! Is it not the "Dancing with the Stars" that our world truly needs today?
Angela Howell is a retreatant and volunteer at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California.