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Getting to the heart of the matter PDF Print E-mail

Sunday 29 October 2017: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself

Love the Lord and your neighbourThere are helpful questions and unhelpful questions. Helpful questions touch what matters and lead to helpful conversation. Unhelpful questions focus on what does not matter, some through ignorance of what matters, others maliciously through design. And of course, some questions just miss the central point.

Once upon a time children who were taught about the Eucharistic Fast from midnight might have noticed that the real time in the town in which they lived was later than the standard time. So they would ask if they could eat until 12.15 a.m. A canny question, but one that took them away from what mattered: the reverence that inspired the fast.

Many of the questions asked by the disciples in the Gospels are like that: they simply miss the point. But the questions asked by Jesus’ enemies are more often malicious. They are not asked to find out the truth but to wedge Jesus by alienating some of his supporters. They are politically driven.

When the Pharisees ask which is the greatest of the commandments they hope that Jesus will mention such individual laws as being faithful in marriage, telling the truth, not treating people violently or observing the Sabbath. If he names observing the Sabbath as the greatest, for example, they will be able to criticise him for being soft on lying or adultery. We are familiar with this kind of rubbish in our political life and in social media.

In his reply to their question Jesus goes straight to the heart of what matters in human life. He names the most important commandment in the Scriptural phrase that summed up the heart of Judaism for his hearers – loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. If we love God first and our neighbour as ourselves, we shall keep all the other commandments because they are simply examples of how we should relate to God and to one another. If we answer in these large terms we are less likely to focus narrowly on ourselves and on our duties but more broadly on our relationships of love with God and our neighbour.

At Jesuit Social Services are confronted with many examples of how influential people lose sight of what matters and focus their attention on unprofitable things. This can cause great damage to human beings. When looking at breaches of the law by children, for example, they lose sight of what matters: our call to care for children’s welfare and growth into responsible adults. Instead they focus on punishment and build bigger jails that will ensure the children thrown there will graduate to adult gaols. As Catholics we are invited to reflect on what matters in our own lives and in our society, and to pose questions to our leaders from that perspective.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ