22 Ordinary Time
Twenty-second Sunday: Laws and Love
“Buckle up your seat belts. It’s the Law.” That sign that we have all seen throughout our country expresses the common American mentality regarding laws. That mentality is: “You must do this or that or not do this or that because the authorities say so. If you violate the law you will be punished.” To some degree or other, we all share in this mentality. So often the determination of our actions are based on whether or not we will be punished, not on what is right or wrong. For example, how fast we drive may be determined by the speed we know will not result in our getting a traffic ticket. Many times, though, we take a higher look at the law and determine or actions accordingly. The law might be to drive at 25 mph in your neighborhood, but because you know that there are children playing who could run into the street at any time, you drive at 10-15 mph, bound not by the law but by your concern for the children of the area.
Hopefully, when we were children we all listened to and obeyed our parents for an even higher motivation than fear of punishment, or the good of society. Hopefully, we all obeyed our parents out of love. We experienced the continual sacrificial love our parents had for us and realized that even if we disagreed with one of their rules, these rules were an expression of their love and concern for us and for our own good. Maybe we didn’t like it if when other teenagers were allowed to stay out until one or two while we had to be home at eleven, but we knew that our parents’ rules were set out of love and we responded because that was out way of reciprocating love, showing our love for them.
Now the first reading for this Sunday from the Book of Deuteronomy speaks about the laws that God gave to the people of Israel in terms of his love for them. The Israelites did not view these laws as impositions from above that had to be followed to avoid punishment. They saw the law as a personal expression of God’s love for them. So we heard, “What great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord Our God is to us when we call on him?” The people of Israel had a personal relationship with God. They knew that he cared for them. His laws were an expression of his love. They kept the law to return his love.
“All good things come from heaven above,” James tells us in today’s second reading. God continually chooses each of us to be his child. He loves us first. We have to respond to his love. We have to, James says, submit to his word, follow his law as our way of loving God. James reminds us, “Just listening to the Word of God within us is not enough.” We have to respond by putting his word into action.
We have, all of us, the capacity for a personal relationship with Jesus and through Jesus with God the Father in union with the eternal life force, the Holy Spirit. We have a personal Savior in Jesus Christ. He is near to us. He is with us every moment of our lives. However, it is not enough for us to acknowledge his presence, we have to respond to his love by reciprocating, by loving him back. Christian morality is not a matter of performing actions to avoid punishment. Christian morality is a matter of loving God by doing his will.
The motivation for our actions as Christians must be hearts full of love. That’s what Jesus is pointing out in the Gospel reading. Performing actions without love is just paying God lip service. What matters is the motivation of our actions. What matters is what is inside of us. Sin springs from hatred and selfishness within a person and takes its expression in the terrible actions enumerated at the end of the Gospel reading, fornication, murder, theft, adultery, etc. Virtue springs from hearts full of the love of God and responds with charity, kindness, and upright decent behavior.
James says that pure unspoiled religion is this: simply to come to the aid of orphans and widows and to keep ourselves uncontaminated by the world. The word religion means being tied to God. We are religious, bound to God, if we care for those who need our help, widows, orphans, the sick, distressed, all challenged in any way, the poor, those with terrible diseases etc. We care for those who need our help out of love for God who created them and loves them. And we keep our hearts uncontaminated by the evils of the world, selfishness, pride, the concept that whatever we do is OK regardless of its effects on others.
Our God, our loving Father, is not up there somewhere dumping laws upon us and waiting to catch us erring. Our God, our loving Father, is right here, personally within each of us. Because he wants us to have a personal relationship with him, he calls us to respond to his love. But we have to make this response. Sometimes people say that they have a personal relationship with God, but they continue to sin. They think that God is too loving to punish them no matter what they do. They do not realize that when we don’t respond to God’s love, we destroy our capacity to love him. Our religion is unauthentic, corrupt, nothing more than lip service when we say we have a relationship with God yet have hearts corrupted by selfishness, hatred and sin.
My friends, you and I are called by Jesus to love him. We are never alone. We have a personal relationship with a loving Father. But we must care for his presence. We must nurture his presence by responding to his love or we will shut his love out of our lives no matter how much we claim that he is our Lord. Today we pray that we might live the ways of the Lord out of our deep love for our Jesus Our Savior.