30th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mt 22: 34-40

" Loving God – Building Bridges or Erecting Walls? "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 23rd October 2011

The message of Jesus in today’s Gospel for each of us is very clear.  He says, “. . . the greatest and the first commandment is, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.”  And the second commandment is, “You must love your neighbour as yourself . . . on these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.”

We have each heard this proclaimed hundreds of times in our lives.  The main problem is not so much our lack of knowledge, but the challenge of putting into practice what Jesus teaches.  When we come to Church every Sunday, we hear the Good News of Salvation proclaimed, but when we return to our homes, when we leave the walls of this sacred space of worship, we hear, we read and we breathe in the bad news of great suffering and destruction of humanity and God’s creation in the world.  In the face of such contrasting realities, Jesus is challenging you and I to build “bridges” and be bearers of the Good News of peace and hope to all peoples in our daily living.

        

We all know that there is much suffering and pain in the world.  We all know that hundreds of thousands of people are dying each day from starvation even though there is excess food to feed everyone.  We all know that the beautiful world that God has created is being destroyed through indiscriminate deforestation, oil spills, air pollution and the like, all in the name of progress and development.  We all know that the world we live in is no longer safe because of terrorism and the tragedies of fanatical ideologies and policies that claim to defend religion and promote life through scientific research, but end up destroying lives; innocent lives.

This is a very sad picture of the world we live in; this is a world that often threatens our security instead of promoting our wellbeing and peace.  As such, we withdraw into the safety of our homes and build walls to protect ourselves; we bolt our gates with heavy locks and remind ourselves that there is a dangerous world outside, waiting to rob and threatening to destroy.  In the face of such grim reality, how are we to build bridges of the Good News of Salvation in today’s world, we may ask?

      

This is a good question, but the answer is often complex and not straightforward; trusting God as believers does not mean that we pull down our walls and leave our front doors unlocked; that we all know is foolhardy.  So, where do all these leave us?  How are we to share the love that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel with our neighbours?

We can begin by becoming more aware that the “real love” that Jesus wants us to share must not be locked up in the securities of our homes, where our love is only shared with our children, relatives and friends.

When millions are starving, when thousands live without homes, clothing, clean water and proper education, we as believers of Christ are called to do something and make a difference to the plight and pain of these suffering people.  In this light, we are happy to see how many of you have supported and continue to support so generously and selflessly to our Parish Social Mission fund raising projects and our weekly and daily canteen services for the poor and needy.

In addition to these, we can each also, beginning in little ways open our hearts and homes more and more each day to the challenges that come our way when we encounter these people in the streets and in our neighbourhood.

              
               Ah Huat sleeping at the HDB void deck of Farrer Road

A person sleeping in the void deck or lying lifeless in the streets may not seem important and may be faceless to those thousands who walk by them and shun them.  But, if we are to be “bridges” of the Good News of Salvation in today’s world, then we must learn to see the presence of Christ in these people.  We must bring the Eucharist that we celebrate so solemnly and profoundly to these people by at least looking at them with compassion in our hearts and not walk or drive by without recognising the Christ in them.

Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit wrote that of all the commodities in our world, love is the only one we lose, when we keep it.  It defies all rules of economics.  You have to give love away in order to keep it, and the more love you give away, the more love you have for yourself . . . Thus, when we see the tragic sufferings in the world and do nothing about it, we are condemning ourselves to death.  This is because when love is quarantined, when love is locked up in our little homes with no sunlight and no fresh air, when we keep love selfishly for ourselves, we are going to lose it; sooner or later, it is going to wither and die, and we will find that there isn’t any love left for our own children and for ourselves either.

Fr Galdon explains further that the strange paradox of sharing love with others is that we need all these people who are in need and some of us need them very badly.  Why?!   These people who are in need help us to grow to become more of a person ourselves; have we not so often heard people sharing that when they go out to serve the poor, aged and needy, they gain more than what they have given?  This is because in sharing our love and being compassionate we become more humane and less self-centred in our daily living.

It is a constantly recurring miracle of human existence that a person grows when someone needs him.  It is even more beautiful when he responds positively to their needs.  Then the two of us are the better and happier for it.  The lesson of Cain and Abel is that I am indeed my brother’s keeper.  I dare not turn my back on his needs without turning my back on my own needs as a person.  I cannot deny him love without losing it myself.

         

Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to build bridges between heaven and earth and between all men and women of good will.  In a rather startling statement, Christ identified Himself with all those in need.  He says to us and everyone in the world, “Whatever you do to the least of these breathen of mine, you do it to me.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to be Christ’s bridges of His Good News of Salvation in today’s world of pain and suffering, we can no longer use clever rationalisation like, “It’s their own fault that they are poor and in need because they ought to work harder; they are just too lazy and they should do something to help themselves.  Neither can we simply hide under the convenient truth that the world’s problems are too big for me to solve or there is too much poverty in the world; too much jealousy and dishonesty, too much hatred and violence everywhere.  So, what can I do about them with the little that I have?  When mayors and politicians ask Mother Theresa, “Mother, what can you and your sisters do?  We have thousands of poor people what have great needs?  Mother Theresa would simply say, “One at a time.”

          

When Jesus challenged the Pharisees in today’s Gospel about our need to love God totally He was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 that every Jewish child has to commit to memory, “You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.”  In saying this, Jesus was asserting that to God we must give a total love which dominates our emotions, directs our thoughts and is the dynamic of our all our actions.

And, when Jesus insisted that, that our love for God must also be shown in our love for our neighbour, He was quoting Leviticus 19:18 that we are created in God’s image.  Thus, every person is loveable and should be loved.  But, to take away our love for God from us, would make us angry, unteachable and pessimistic about life; the only real hope in the world is to love God wholly and have His love firmly rooted in our hearts and concretely lived out daily in our lives.

At the Last Judgment, Christ will ask each of us, “During your life time on earth, when you profess to believe in me, did you build the bridges of My Good News of Salvation to all peoples or instead, did you erect walls in your hearts and homes that cut yourself and your family from the needs of the world?

To conclude, let us remind ourselves that there is one gift that all of us can give whether we are rich or poor – we can give the gift of love.  We can overcome the temptations of pride and selfishness, bury the fears and insecurities of our lives and stop making the excuses that occupy our minds, choke the goodness and numb the compassion that God has planted in our hearts when He created us in His own image and likeness, and begin to build bridges of love with all peoples for when we meet God after we die, He is going to ask us the three questions that St Ignatius of Loyola asked in his Spiritual Exercises, “What have I done for Christ, What am I doing for Christ, and What ought I do for Christ?”

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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