Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1121 words)

Homily - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Subday, 25 October 2020 

In four weeks, we will be celebrating the end of the Church's year. Today we hear Jesus, near the end of his public ministry, and still trying to communicate the core of his message. Even when someone asks him a question about the most important of the 613 Jewish laws, he refuses to engage. His focus isn't on taking part in their petty battles but on proclaiming a new way of looking at people and at God. What might he be saying to us today?

Firstly, he is being asked an academic theological question, to which there was no right answer. But it is a comfortable question for some people because such speculation keeps God in a harmless place where he cannot make us feel uncomfortable. Jesus subverts that faithless legalistic mentality by quoting from the Jewish scriptures. His point is clear. There is no value in arguing over keeping commandments unless that passion for laws is rooted in both love of God and love of neighbour. God wants loving hearts. Faith cannot grow in hard hearts where condemnation of self or of others is the starting point.

Jesus had huge compassion for those whose lives were in a mess. He knew that society constantly despised them for how their lives had ended up. He knew that the five-times married and now cohabiting Samaritan woman was an outcast among her own people. But, whatever the scars in her life, Jesus knew that divine love and forgiveness were the only ways to warm a hurt, self-loathing heart. The sinners met someone who looked them straight in the face and walked with them, starting from where they were. In today's encounter with the Pharisees, he had no time for those who saw laws and not people. Jesus said elsewhere that not one little dot of the law would pass away. But he believed that the laws were directed at guiding and liberating people, not crushing them. Today Jesus implies that laws without compassion and mercy are inhuman and not of God. Thus, he had little time for the Pharisee spirit who loved to be theological exact and enjoyed condemning others. That is why I worry about a spirituality which loves to condemn others. A spirit of angry or gleeful condemnation is not of God. Love of neighbour includes speaking grace-fully of sin in a way that offers hope and never smacks of self-righteousness.

Secondly, it is difficult to put these two commandments into practice together. On the one hand, it is easy to say that we stand for God's glory and truth – and to condemn others who appear to not take the commandments seriously. It is equally attractive to shy away from divine truth and to make allowances for everything under the guise of love. The real challenge for a maturing faith is to hold the horizontal and vertical in some sort of equilibrium. I get lots of angry emails and letters. On the one side, there are demands that we close all churches, as people can pray very well at home and don't need to gather together. At the other end of the spectrum here are those who demand that nobody should be denied their rights to access the sacraments, insisting that heroic martyrs in the past did not bend the knee to persecuting governments.

Our challenge today is how to ensure public space for the worship of God in a way that protects public health. We are asked to keep a balance that respects both of Christ's commandments in today's Gospel. In different areas of life, we have heard the demand that 'it is my right'. Jesus speaks into that reality by insisting that 'my rights' are not more important than the rights of someone else who may be weaker or unknown. Love of God without love of neighbour can be as selfish as a sentimental commitment to do whatever turns you on. Love of God means recognising God's mercy on our fallen human nature that is so capable of self-deceit. Solidarity, not selfishness will build a more grace-filled world. Those who forget the Common Good and argue only for 'my rights' might reflect on today's Gospel.

Love of God and of neighbour are not some sort of cold laws but rather a call to become great human beings. There is an idea which seems to believe that bad behaviour can be rooted out by more laws and punishment. It is human behaviour, not the absence of more laws, that does the damage.

Thirdly, Jesus's words in today's Gospel should enable Christians to speak of what God knows we can become. Love of God and of neighbour are not some sort of cold laws but rather a call to become great human beings. There is an idea which seems to believe that bad behaviour can be rooted out by more laws and punishment. It is human behaviour, not the absence of more laws, that does the damage. The virus will be stopped in its tracks when human beings take responsibility for their actions and recognise the consequences of what they do. On their own, regulations will not break the spread of this virus. Jesus proclaimed the outrageously generous love of God as a call to greatness through virtue, not conformity. His self-giving on the Cross would liberate us from being trapped in a one-dimensional view of the world that throttles our hunger for greatness and for eternity. Thus, faith in Jesus wants us to act in ways that are mature and creative. The consumerist 'I'm worth it' mentality damages the divine call to human greatness. The message of 'my life/my self-indulgence' says that world stops at the end of my nose. Today's great commandments tell us that we are capable of generous love. Divine love and love of neighbour are the only way to heal the pain of the world. Jesus gives us the teaching and shows how to put into practice. His twin commandments are a call to greatness.

That is why we gather each week. In a hurting world with many angry frightened voices, Jesus reassures us of the divine dream that was made possible through the love that brought Jesus to the Cross and Resurrection. We hear the Good News in the scriptures. And then we celebrate Christ's victory over sin and condemnation on Calvary. The Good News is not just that we will share God's life after death. It says that the seeds of eternity are sown here when we know God's love for us and trust that love for one another is of eternal value in God's eyes. That is Good News for every generation.

+ Donal McKeown

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