Exodus 22:20 – 26
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of Exodus. Although it is just a small part of a long expansion of the Decalogue (cf. 20:1-17 and 21:1 – 23:33 and finally the mention of Moses writing down these laws in 24:4) the passage was clearly chosen to prepare us for the Gospel. It speaks in very practical terms what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. The passage we will hear on Sunday is a small section of the three chapters in the Book of Exodus that amplify the Decalogue which is recorded in chapter 20. These chapters comprise the Book of the Covenant that Moses read to the people as commanded in Ex 21:1 and as reported in Ex 24:7. This entire section of Exodus gives us insights into the social situation of the ancient Israelites, with their understanding of slavery, property, marriage, etc. Let’s read a few other sections before we read the passage we will hear on Sunday: 21:1-37; 22:1-19. This code is not unique in Ancient Near East history. We now know about a half-dozen codes that pre-date the time of Moses:
– Ur-Nammu, written in Sumerian (ca. 2050) named for the ruler of the city-state of Ur;
– Eshnunna, written in cuneiform (ca. 1925); 59 formulas extant;
– Lipit-Ishtar, also Sumerian; prologue, epilogue, 37 precepts extant;
– Hammurabi, from Babylon(ca. 1728); prologue, epilogue, 282 laws extant
– Hittite (ca. 1450); 200 laws extant;
– Assyrian (ca. 1350); clay tablets extant.
In fact, much of language of the last seven commandments of our Decalogue can be found in the Code of Hammurabi. So, now let’s examine Sunday’s reading.
20 “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
Alien: – גר – one who, because of war, plague, famine or bloodguilt, was forced to leave a homeland. In his new home, it appears that his civic rights were less than those of his new neighbors. The code reminds the Israelites that they, too, were once aliens in Egypt, so they should be hospitable and just to these aliens. This concern about the alien is found throughout the Old Testament (cf. Lv 19:33-34; Dt 1:16; 10:17-19; 14:28-29; 16:11-14; Jer 7:5-7).
21 You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
22 If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.
23 My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.
Widow or orphan: any wrong done to an unprotected widow or orphan would incur the wrath of God since they were the most vulnerable of all in society.
24 “If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.
Extortioner: this was strictly prohibited against a fellow Israelite, but not others (cf. Lv. 25:35-38; Dt. 23:20-21).
25 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset;
26 for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.
cloak of his is the only covering: it is hard for us to imagine this, but most people had only one coat, and they needed it to protect themselves against the cold nights.
Matthew 22: 34 – 40
This week, we continue to hear from Matthew’s Gospel, skipping the question of the resurrection from the dead. We find an almost identical account in Luke 10:25-28, with a very important addition (cf. 29-37). Let’s read Luke’s account.
On the other hand, the Marcan parallel (read Mark 12:28-34) is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe who is impressed by the way in which Jesus has conducted himself in the previous controversy (Mark 12:28), who compliments him for the answer he gives him (Mark 12:32), and who is said by Jesus to be “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
Matthew has set that same story within the contentious interchange Jesus has been having with the Jewish leaders. In Matthew’s Gospel, the questioner, as the representative of other Pharisees, tests Jesus by his question (Matthew 22:34-35), and both his reaction to Jesus’ reply and Jesus’ commendation of him are lacking. This pericope is another good example of all three synoptic Gospels providing us with a teaching that is probably original to Jesus but using it for their own particular purposes.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35 and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking,
(A scholar of the law): meaning “scribe.” Although this reading is supported by the vast majority of textual witnesses, it is the only time that the Greek word so translated occurs in Matthew. It is relatively frequent in Luke, and there is reason to think that it may have been added here by a copyist since it occurs in the Lucan parallel (Luke 10:25-28).
Tested: see the note on Matthew 19:3.
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
which commandment in the law is the greatest: Rabbis counted 613 distinct commandments in the Law. For the devout Jew, all the commandments were to be kept with equal care, but there is evidence of preoccupation in Jewish sources with the question put to Jesus. Of the commandments, 248 were positive precepts while 365 were prohibitions. These commandments were distinguished as “light” or “heavy” according to the seriousness of the subject.
37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
You shall love…all your mind: Cf Deut 6:5. Matthew omits the first part of Mark’s fuller quotation (Mark 12:29; Deut 6:4-5), probably because he considered its monotheistic emphasis needless for his church. The love of God must engage the total person (heart, soul, mind).
38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself: Jesus goes beyond the extent of the question put to him and joins to the greatest and the first commandment a second, that of love of neighbor, Lev 19:18; see the note on Lv. 19:17-18. The answer that Jesus provides quotes Dt. 6:5, a heavy commandment, and Lv 19:18, a light commandment. There is no parallel in Jewish literature of this juxtapositioning of these two commandments to effectively make them into one.
40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
The whole law… these two commandments: The double commandment is the source from which the whole law and the prophets are derived. Good works have value as acts of the love of God and of neighbor.
In Jesus’ day, every Jewish man was expected to greet the sunrise by praying the Shema, taken from Deuteronomy 6, which begins with: “Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Nothing can or should replace this fundamental law of Judaism. But, Jesus quickly joins the second most important regulation to the first. And, both Jesus and the evangelists expand the ancient Jewish notion of neighbor. Notice that when Luke uses this teaching from Jesus, he immediately follows it with the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear who Jesus considers our neighbor. In very clear language, both the first reading and Gospel today speak of the essential connection between love of God and love of neighbor; you can’t have one without the other!
1 Thessalonians 1:5c – 10
We hear again from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul arrived in Thessalonica in 50AD. Despite his short stay in Thessalonica, the Christian community thrived and retained a very cordial relationship with Paul. We will be hearing from this letter for the next several weeks.
5c You know what sort of people we were (among) you for your sake.
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the holy Spirit,
Imitators: the Pauline theme of “imitation” (see 1 Thes 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thes 3:9) is rooted in Paul’s view of solidarity in Christ through sharing in Jesus’ cross and in the Spirit of the risen Lord.
Word: of the gospel (cf. 2 Cor 11:4; Mt 13:19)
Affliction: “Θλιψεις” salvation comes only through suffering (cf. Mt 24:9-25). The passion and death of Christ were the “Θλιψεις” of Christ (Col 1:24); hence, “Θλιψεις” is part of the Christian vocation (1 Thes 3:3-4; Acts 14:22). And the path to glory (Rev. 7:14).
7 so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and (in) Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.
9 For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God
10 and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from (the) dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.
his Son from heaven: here we see an addition to monotheism – Christology – as well as an eschatology: deliverance from the coming wrath.
The readings this Sunday call to reflect, once again, on how we are to live our faith: by love of God and neighbor. It’s a simple and direct command. That’s why we worship God and support Mercy Hospice, our sister parish, St. Martin de Porres, give to Catholic Charities. It’s a both-and call.