Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.
“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.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
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.”
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?”
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.”
The Pharisees test Jesus by presenting an either-or choice. They want Him to pick one commandment to the exclusion of all others. The Lord responds with a both-and answer: loving God is the highest commandment, but it is inextricably linked to loving our neighbor, who is made in God’s image.
In the First Reading, God tells us concretely who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, and the poor person; in short, anyone who lacks status, connections, and resources and is in a vulnerable position. God strictly forbade the Israelites from oppressing such people or profiting off their weakness unjustly.
Jesus raises the bar by telling us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. It is not enough to refrain from oppressing the widow, we should treat her as our own mother. It is not enough to refrain from gauging the poor, we should help them with our own resources.
The Church has always placed practicing Christian charity at the core of her mission. The Lord reminds us today not to treat this simply as an ordinary duty, something akin to paying taxes. When we practice charity toward the poor, the immigrant, the widow, we honor God, in whose image they are made. Loving our neighbor is linked to the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
Please be assured of my prayers before Our Lord, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
+ Bishop Schlert