GOD AND NEIGHBOR
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10,
This Sunday we hear all about the basics: love of God and love of neighbor. It is also interesting to see how the Mass prayers emphasize and support the core message of “the greatest commandment.” The Collect prays: “increase our faith, hope and charity and make us love what you command.” In the Prayer over the Offerings we ask: “that whatever is done by us in your service (love of neighbor) may be directed above all to your glory (love of God).”
The first reading actually concentrates on the second commandment: love of neighbor. It begins with a warning against mistreating aliens, widows and orphans. In reading this, I am reminded of my paternal grandmother, who was by no means a theologian or Scripture scholar. But she did teach me a lot about performing what she called “acts of charity.” She said that God would surely bless those. My grandmother had a heart of compassion for those who were poor and disadvantaged, and indeed, this was patterned after God’s own heart of compassion, as expressed in this reading.
There are some 613 laws in the Old Testament and the Pharisees, always trying to “test” Jesus – that is, trap him or trip him up – asked him to pick out one of those laws as the greatest. The answer of Jesus is called the Great Commandment – the Masterpiece Summary of all time! Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus emphasizes that “the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
St. Paul was often forced to defend himself against attacks and there seems to be a slight hint of this in the first sentence of this reading. It is quite understandable, given his experience in Thessalonica. As related in Acts 17, Paul spent three sabbaths there with Silas on a mission trip and had some success in making disciples. But the Jews in the place were especially hostile and incited a riot against Paul’s convert and host, Jason. Paul and Silas had to leave town under cover of darkness. Paul then writes a word of encouragement to the believers there, praising them for turning from idols to serve “the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath.” May Jesus always deliver us from the coming wrath!
VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL
Back in the 1960s (yes, I remember back that far!), it was common to hear, “Don’t so emphasize the vertical (God) so that you neglect the horizontal (people).” Experience has shown since then that it is all too easy to so emphasize the horizontal that you lose sight of the vertical! Jesus did say that the greatest and first commandment is love of God, which can never be compromised. However, we also have to remember that if we do not love our brother whom we see, we cannot love God whom we do not see (cf. 1 John 4:20). This is echoed in other places in Scripture as well (cf. James 2:5). There can be no conflict between the first and greatest commandment and the second, which is like unto the first. My grandmother was right about those acts of charity…God does indeed bless them.