Sunday, March 05, 2017

Monday of the First Week of Lent

“Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law” 
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1659
Commentary on Lv 19:1-2, 11-18
This passage describes the rules of conduct from Leviticus, the third book of the Torah or Pentateuch. The book was so named because its contents are almost entirely legislative, probably written by and for the priestly tribe of Levi.
This selection is part of what is known as the “Code of Legal Holiness.” Echoed here are statutes that incorporate and expand the “Ten Commandments,” the Decalogue. These verses establish the rules for relationships with others. They begin with a phrase that is repeated many times in Leviticus: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
The “code” continues with the ban against stealing, lying, defrauding, or having unfair business relationships. Perhaps most significant in this passage is v. 18b: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Christ uses this section of the law in tandem with the first commandment in the Decalogue as the “Great Commandment.” While it is defined by Mosaic Law as applying only to interactions with one’s countrymen, Jesus defines it to include even our enemies.
CCC: Lv 19:2 2811; Lv 19:13 2434; Lv 19:15 1807; Lv 19:18 2055
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm19:8, 9, 10, 15
R. (John 6:63b) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Commentary on Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
Psalm 19 is a song of praise. It rejoices in the laws and precepts set down by God, and asks the Lord to find favor in those who follow them. This part of Psalm 19 is a formulaic profession of faith. It begins with the Law of God, then the rules based upon the Law, and finally on faith in God. Essentially this litany says if you follow God’s law in all its fullness, salvation is yours.
Gospel: Matthew25:31-46
Commentary on Mt 25:31-46
Jesus, in this reading, is telling his disciples and us what will be judged at the end times, the Eschaton. The reading gives us a vision of what will be asked and how judgment will be passed. This image is used as a teaching tool, to focus those who wish to follow Jesus on loving those who are in need of help: the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the imprisoned.
This reading provides yet one more example of how Christ intends the Great Commandment to be lived. Loving God and loving neighbor would be judged by: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” We note that while the general theme is broadly applied to all people, there is special emphasis placed upon the poor and marginalized. The concluding answer expands upon the Hebrew definition in Leviticus (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18) as St. Matthew defines "neighbor" in a more inclusive sense.
CCC: Mt 25:31-46 544, 1033, 1373,2447, 2831; Mt 25:31-36 2443; Mt 25:31 331, 671, 679, 1038; Mt 25:32 1038; Mt 25:36 1503; Mt 25:40 678, 1397, 1825,1932, 2449; Mt 25:41 1034; Mt 25:45 598, 1825, 2463; Mt 25:46 1038
One of the things we notice as we grow in faith is that the definitions of Christian or Catholic virtue we apply to ourselves change.  We see this most clearly when scripture, like the selections given today, is proclaimed.  We have heard these passages before, both directly and in paraphrase.  For the faithful Mass-goer, they have been heard at least once a year, yet they continue to challenge us.  The reason for this is, even if we believe we have been very good, if we have carefully observed the commandments over the past year, we still hear the words once more and can see how far we still need to go to get to the high standard the Lord sets for us.
Let’s look at just one statement from the readings.  In Leviticus, the Law of Moses states, "You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him.”  On the surface this is very straightforward and although the language is not inclusive, it clearly applies to men and women alike.  We are forbidden to hate.  That means, if we feel an intense dislike for another person, we must somehow overcome it.  Depending upon the relationship the other person has to us, removing hatred can be truly challenging.  Generally the closer (more deeply loving) the relationship has been, the greater the risk that if some dispute arises between the parties, the deeper the hatred that can result.
The Lenten Season is the perfect time to review our relationships. We should make sure we have done all we can to reconcile with anyone with whom we have had a falling-out or breaking-up. The feelings that arise from these situations can indicate we have fallen into sin. 
While the code from Leviticus addresses our personal and family relationships, Jesus expands this by redefining the relationships we have with the human race at large.  It turns out that we need to resolve to love (the inverse of hatred) the people in our family and immediate community of friends, and also those with whom we would choose not to associate: the marginalized, the criminals, the diseased. These forgotten or despised members of society become our direct concern if we choose to follow Jesus.  The bar for us has been raised. (If we wanted to be even more to the point, although somewhat premature, we could say it has risen.)
Each year we can look back and see if we have done well in following Christ’s law of loving others.  Each year we can see that we have grown some, but still have a long way to go.  Today we are reminded once more that the rhetorical question asked by Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” has been answered by God, and the answer is “Yes!”  We pray for the strength to follow these simple laws and to become more like the saints who have gone before us.

[1] The picture used is “Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1659

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