Reading I: Exodus 22:20-26
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
GOSPEL: Matthew 22:34-40

Putting Jesus in the Middle

The Pharisees and Sadducees did not see eye to eye. They disagreed about the right way to practice their religion. Sometimes they disagreed so strongly they actually got into violent fights (see Acts 23:1-10). In the Gospel reading this weekend, the Pharisees had just seen Jesus silence the Sadducees. They might have been thinking, “The Sadducees failed – but we can trip this guy up. Now we’ll ask him a question that will either put Jesus on our side or make him look foolish.”

Using Religion as a Weapon

Now the Pharisees believed that all the biblical laws were equally important. So if the Pharisees could get Jesus to say the same thing, then they could claim he was one of them. And if Jesus said that one law was more important than the others, then they could claim he wasn’t being faithful to the true teaching of the Scriptures.

But Jesus once again out-foxed them. He quotes two different summaries of the law from the Old Testament (Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18). By doing this, Jesus emphasized that God’s main message is about love – love of God and love of neighbor. Loving their neighbors is exactly what neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees were doing very well. They were using their religious beliefs as a weapon to attack each other and to attack Jesus.

True Religion Leads to Love

I think Jesus is saying this: If you attack people who don’t believe what you believe, then you don’t understand what God and faith are all about. We don’t have to look very hard today to see wars abroad and conflicts at home that are driven by differences in religious beliefs. It must make God very sad to see hate groups use Him as an excuse to justify violence and terrorism.

As Christ’s followers, this Sunday’s readings teach us that we must take a different path. The first reading teaches that we must love all people; including people who are different. The second reading tells us that we should want other people to imitate our love as we imitate Christ’s love. Imitating Christ’s love is a big challenge. It means being willing to suffer ourselves rather than hurt another person. Can you give witness to that depth of love?

Life Applications:

What does it look like to be strong in your Catholic faith, but still love and respect people who believe differently?
Do you imitate Christ in loving all people, even those who disagree with you? How?
How do Catholics use religious beliefs as weapons against each other?

Original article Brian Singer-Towns, 2005 – 2020.

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