500 Years of Christianity Countdown

Nuns bringing relief goods during the lockdown due to COVID-19 last summer. Photo from Facebook.

Our gospel this Sunday is a very usual scene happening daily in our modern world when we keep on testing Jesus Christ like the Pharisees for so many things about life we feel we know better than even God.

We keep on “pushing the lines” to avoid crossing them lest we break the laws and commandments when our hearts are clearly bent more on the legalisms than their spirit and sense.

How unfortunate that until now, when we would rather see the small parts than the whole that we keep on breaking down everything specially laws as if they are entities unto themselves, forgetting that each part leads to greater good.

Such is the essence of the one law of love, love of God is always love of neighbor and vice versa. They cannot be separated, like a face with two cheeks.

But more important than understanding the nature of the law of love which is the inseparability of love of God and love of others is passing its final test of loving.

I have always loved this actual photo of a banana vendor during the lockdown who kept his prices low as part of his effort in alleviating the sufferings due to COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Smart, March 2020.

We keep on testing Jesus
who has passed every test we have
subjected him into...
Can we pass his test of love, too?

As we come to close our liturgical calendar in the coming weeks, our Sunday gospel today challenges us to examine our very selves too if like Jesus, can we pass the test of love?

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Matthew 22:34-36

The scholar’s question to Jesus was partly a result of the confusion among people of his time when their experts and scholars of the Laws broke down into minute details and parts the Decalogue that eventually ended having over 600 precepts including those rituals of cleansing of things Jesus and his disciples were often accused of disregarding whenever they came to gatherings.

The sad thing is that instead of simplifying them so the people may find more the spirit of the Laws than its legalisms, the Jewish leaders “did not lift a finger” about it for selfish motives.

And now they were using it to test Jesus which we sadly continue in our present time.

While it is true that evil exists in lawlessness or when we live lawlessly, God’s law is directly opposed to a legalistic understanding that must be seen always in the light of faith.

This is perhaps the main point of Pope Francis in his recent statement proposing for “civil coexistence law” (convivencia civil) that will protect homosexual people from mistreatment and social rejection even from among their own family circles. The Pope is not calling for same sex civil union nor same sex marriage. We have to go beyond the legalese and legalisms of laws to see the Holy Father’s genuine concern and love for people with homosexual tendencies he had longed to bring back to the fold.

We cannot separate law and love if either is to bring deepened relationships and unity among peoples that are in fact the goals of both law and love. Law and love always take into consideration the other person often forgotten when we have an excess of our very selves.

In the first reading, we are reminded how the laws themselves are manifestations of God’s love for his people, of laws coming directly from him without any hint whatsoever of the distant lawgiver we have always seen and experienced among men.

See how he admonished everyone to be kind with everybody specially aliens for after all, we are all immigrants and travelers of this earth whom he takes care of. In declaring “I am compassionate” (Ex.22:26), God assures everyone of his oneness with us, that to love him is to love others, to hurt others is hurting him too! The very same thing Jesus is telling us today!

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus easily passed the “test” by the Pharisees at that instant and would prove it more decisively and concretely on the Cross when he gives himself up to the Father for our salvation as the supreme sign of love that is true.

His answer takes us all to the very foundation of all the laws we have which is loving God with one’s total self expressed in loving others as we love our selves. Here we find Jesus doing away with our legalisms that focus on the letters and individual laws and commandments, summing them all in love.

Again, following the background and personality of Pope Francis, here we find his love in action being bogged down by legalisms and limitations of the language.

What does he really mean with convivencia civil or civil coexistence law minus any romantic meanings in adherence to our moral laws?

I do not know but in my heart, I could feel the love and compassion of this Pope for homosexuals we have long ostracized from the Church and even society, making fun of them, forgetting their feelings and well-being and persons. It might still take some time before the Pope’s idea is realized even in the Church. What we need at the moment is openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit to finally find those words and terms to encapsulate the love and compassion Pope Francis has for them.

That is the problem with love — always beyond words. One has just to do it, to just “love, love, and love” as Leo Buscaglia would always say.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us how the world continues to frown upon us Christians striving to live the life Christ had called us to. We can see the continuing biases in the society even in social media against us Christians standing for what is just, moral and true. It is in this context where we are challenged to be true witnesses of the love of Jesus Christ that the credibility of his gospel is proven daily as the only path towards peace and harmony.

Jesus passed the tests of his enemies about his love for God and love for us; all the past Popes have proven too their complete love for God and for others in their lives of holiness. Pope Francis has striven while still in Argentina to witness this immense love of Jesus for the marginalized. Instead of wasting our energies debating about his recent statements despite his being passed the same test of love, let us now examine ourselves how are we faring in this test of love too?

And loving and lovely week ahead of everyone in Jesus!

Photo by author, 2019.