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30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle a)

Readings:
Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Matthew 22:34-40

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind, and this is the reason we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Command to Love
Love of God and love of our fellow man/woman is the basis of the spirit of the Old Covenant Law.  The first three of the Ten Commandments addressed the obligation to love God above all else while the rest of the Ten Commandments addressed the obligation to love one's brothers and sisters in the human family.  It is love that binds the two major sections of the Ten Commandments.  We cannot love God whom we cannot see if we do not love our neighbor whom we do see and who is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). 

Our First Reading is from the part of the Law of the Sinai Covenant called the "Book of the Covenant" (Ex 21:2-24:18).  This section of the Law is a collection of ethical and moral obligations that are divine commands.  In this section, the main body of the Law concerns the stranger and the disadvantaged of society, including widows, orphans, and the poor.  God commands the Israelites to be sensitive to the plight of the stranger and the disadvantaged because of their experience when they were defenseless strangers in Egypt.  He orders the Israelites to demonstrate compassion not only out of humanitarian concern but by divine decree. God addresses the people in both the plural and singular in this passage.  Therefore, God will hold His people accountable as a nation and as individuals.  The vulnerable elements of society are always God's special concern, and Scripture consistently revisits this theme throughout the Old and New Testaments.

The Responsorial Psalm is a hymn of gratitude and praise that David offered to God "after the Lord has rescued him from all his enemies." David's song gratefully proclaims that God is his rock, his shield, his deliverer, and his Savior.  David acknowledges that God delivered him from all his enemies, including his greatest enemy, death in battle.  He declares that he is God's anointed agent (also see 1 Sam 16:12-13), and attributes his victories, not to his success, but because God loves him and he is part of God's divine plan. 

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes to the Christians of Thessalonica that he is proud of the courage and faith of the community.  Paul rejoices at the effect the Holy Spirit has had on the community through the preaching of his missionary team.  The Gentile converts have turned away from pagan idols to follow Jesus Christ and have become a model for all the faithful in Macedonia and Greece. 

In the Gospel Reading, a scribe who is a teacher of the Law asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment from among the articles of the Law.  Jesus' answer is from two passages in the Torah/Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament).   The first and greatest commandment He says is to love God with one's entire being and the second is to love one's neighbor as oneself.  In quoting these passages, Jesus is summing up the entire law upon which, He says, the Torah and the books of the Prophets are based (Mt 22:40):

St. Matthew does not record the response of the scribe, but St. Mark tells us this scholar was impressed by Jesus' answer.  In praising Jesus' answer, the scribe demonstrated his spiritual understanding of Law and his willingness to acknowledge that Jesus' answer was correct.  The scribe's honest response prompted Jesus to commend him saying, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (see Mk 12:28-34).

Jesus Christ upholds and fulfills the Old Covenant command to love God and neighbor in the New Covenant.  St. John wrote: We love because Jesus Christ first loved us.  If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 Jn 4:19-22).  If you do this, like the scribe Jesus praised, you are not far from the Kingdom of God in Heaven.

The First Reading Exodus 22:20-26 ~ Justice and Mercy for the Poor
20 Thus says the LORD: "You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.  21 You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.  22 If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.  23 My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.  24 If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.  25 If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; 26 for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.  What else has he to sleep in?  If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate."

Our reading is from the second section of law in the "Book of the Covenant" in Exodus 21:2-24:18.  The Book of the Covenant comprises a collection divine commands that are ethical and moral obligations.  The main body of the law in this section concerns the stranger and the disadvantaged of society that included widows, orphans and the poor.  God commands the Israelites to be sensitive to the plight of the stranger and the disadvantaged because they were defenseless strangers in Egypt.  The Israelites' compassion was to be not only out of humanitarian concern but by divine decree.  In the passage, God addresses the people in both the plural and singular.  Therefore, God will hold His people accountable as a nation and as individuals.  The vulnerable elements of society are always God's special concern.  It is a theme consistently revisited throughout the Old and New Testaments (see Jesus' teaching in Lk 6:20-23).

"If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate."
Jesus came to fulfill and transform the Old Covenant Law from its temporal blessings (Lev 26:1-13; Dt 28:1-14) into eternal blessings.  He set a high standard for how His disciples must live in the image the Father's mercy in the depth of compassion they demonstrate towards their fellow man as they continue His earthly ministry.  It is a standard which echoes the spirit of this part of the Old Covenant Law.  Jesus told them: Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged: do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you (Lk 6:36-38).

The Responsorial Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51 ~ The King's Song of Praise and Thanksgiving to the Lord
The response is: "I love you, Lord, my strength."

2 I love you, O LORD, my strength, 3 O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
Response:
3b My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn or my salvation, my stronghold!  4 Praised be the LORD, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies.
Response:
47 The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!  Extolled be God my savior.  51 You who gave great victories to your king and showed kindness to your anointed.
Response:

Verses 1 and 51 establish the historical setting of this Davidic psalm: "after the Lord has rescued him from all his enemies and from the hand of Saul," and after David becomes King of Israel.  2 Samuel 22:1-51 has this same hymn of David's thanksgiving and praise for the Lord, even repeating the same words from verse 1.  Our response is from verse 2.  David song gratefully proclaims that God is his rock, his shield, his deliverer, and his savior.  David acknowledges that God has delivered him from all his enemies, including his greatest enemy, death in battle.  He declares that he is God's anointed agent (Ps 18:51; also see 1 Sam 16:12-13), and attributes his victories, not to his success, but because God loves him. 

It was because of David's faithful love for God that he received an unconditional covenant in which God promised his "house" (dynasty) and his kingdom would endure forever (2 Sam 7:11-16, 29; 23:5; Sir 45:25).  David's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilled this covenant promise.  It is Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of David, who rules from heaven over an eternal kingdom. 

The Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 ~ Imitating Christ
5 You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have not need to say anything.  9 For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 10 and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

In about 50 AD, St. Paul arrived in Macedonia (Greece) to begin his second missionary journey that was his first journey into Europe.  He made converts first in Philippi and soon afterward in Thessalonica.  In both places, Paul and his missionary team faced persecution from Jews and Gentiles.  Despite a rocky start, Paul writes to the Christians of Thessalonica that he is proud of the courage and faith of the community.  Paul rejoices at the effect the Holy Spirit has had on the community through their preaching.  The converts have turned away from pagan idols to follow Jesus Christ.  They have become a model for all the faithful in Macedonia and Greece, spreading Christian teaching throughout the region. 

In verse 10, St. Paul makes several key points about the mystery of Jesus Christ and His kingdom, including Jesus' promised return from Heaven.  St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (344/354-407), commented on this verse and wrote: "...in a single text St. Paul brings together a number of different mysteries concerning Jesus Christ: his glorious resurrection, his victorious ascension, his future coming, the judgment, the reward promised to the righteous, and the punishment reserved for evildoers" (Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Thessalonians).

All Christians wait for Jesus to return from Heaven to judge the earth.  The Second Advent of Christ is a truth of faith that is prophesied in Scripture and has been professed by the faithful since the earliest years of the Church (1 Thess 4:16-17).  It is also what we profess in the Apostles' Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."  It was a belief held by the community at Thessalonica, and they were committed to living holy lives in imitation of Christ, standing in readiness for His return!

The Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40 ~ The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  37 He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.  39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

The Pharisees came as a group to test Jesus.  They selected one of their members, a scribe who was an expert on the Law, to ask Jesus a question about the Law in the attempt to discredit Him in front of the crowd.  The scribe asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment from among the articles of the Law.  According to the secular literature of the time, all the commandments were to receive equal devotion, but Jesus summed up the commandments of the Law in two sentences, answering what was the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment.  His answer is from two passages in the Torah/Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament).   His first answer, identifying the greatest commandment, is a quote from the Greek version of the Shema, the Old Covenant profession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:5, summing up one's relationship with God,  The second is from Leviticus 19:18b and is the summary of the commandments concerning one's relationship with one's fellow man/woman.  In verse 40 Jesus says, in quoting these passages, He is summing up the entire law upon which the Torah and the books of the Prophets depend (Mt 22:40):

St. Matthew does not record the response of the scribe, but St. Mark tells us the scholar of the Law was impressed by Jesus' answer.  In praising Jesus' answer, the scribe demonstrated his spiritual understanding of Law and his willingness to acknowledge that Jesus' answer was correct.  The scribe's honest response prompted Jesus to commend him saying "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (see Mk 12:28-34).  This passage provides an example of a scribal Pharisee swayed by the truth of Jesus' teaching.  Not all Pharisees remained hostile to Jesus.  The Pharisees Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Saul of Tarsus and others became Jewish-Christians who fulfilled the destiny of the new Israel in carrying the Gospel of salvation to the Gentile world.

Catechism References:
Exodus 22:20-26 (CCC 1867)
1 Thessalonians 1:10 (CCC 442)
Matthew 22:34-36 (CCC 581); 22:36-40 (CCC 2055)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017