Jesus – The Radical Rabbi

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) Exodus 22:20-26; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; First Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40 This series appears each Wednesday.

Sermon on the Mount by Bloch

They are at it again.  In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus’ opponents enlist a lawyer to do what lawyers do best – ask a question that puts a person on the hot seat.  “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:34-40).  If the law consisted in only the Ten Commandments, this would be tough enough.  But the written “Torah” included many more moral, ceremonial, and dietary prescriptions. . . 613 to be exact.

Jesus, of course, is a radical.  A “radical” is one who goes to the “radix” or root of the issue. The root problem was that these Pharisees majored in the minors.  They loved to strain out gnats and swallow camels.  They missed the forest for the trees, going to great lengths to observe the letter of the law while totally missing its spirit.

So Jesus fires a broadside.  Splicing together two passages from the Torah, he sinks them.  “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  “This is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18).

This sinks them for a couple of reasons.  First it brilliantly sums up the entire law because every single precept is an expression of these two commandments.  Read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and you’ll see that the first three are about loving God and the other seven are about loving your neighbor.  If you read every line of the Bible, you’d be able to put each command in column A (love God) or column B (love your neighbor).  So these two commandments are indeed the root of them all.

But the other reason his answer sinks them is that these two root commandments are precisely the ones the Pharisees keep breaking.  Observance of the law for them is not an act of divine worship but rather of self-promotion. Instead of their observance of the law leading to love of neighbor, it leads to scorn of neighbors who fail to live up to their standards (see how they treat the blind man in John 9:24-34).  Note what Paul, the converted Pharisee, says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).”  Paul knew this from experience – he spent many years as a gong.  On the positive side, St. Augustine says “love and do what you will.”

Yet Jesus did not say just to love.  He said we must love the Lord with our WHOLE heart and soul and with ALL our mind and strength.  I made a discernment retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemane when, at age 21, I felt torn between a desire for religious life and marriage.  As I walked into the retreat house, I shuddered to see this phrase inscribed in the stone over the entryway: “God Alone.”

Does wholehearted love of God leave no room in your heart for a spouse or children?

If that were the case, there would be no second great commandment in this story.  In fact Jesus says the second commandment is like the first.  That’s because the kind of wholehearted love Jesus is talking about is charity (agape), which means loving God for his own sake and all others for his sake, and doing so not by human strength, but with the divine love that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). When we love others with charity, we love God through them.  Our every loving act towards them becomes an expression of our love for God.

So at bottom, the two great commandments are just two sides of the same coin.  Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.  The two-sided coin of charity is the only legal tender we can use to pay the obligation that’s even more important than taxes – the one owed to the Creator.


Acknowledgement

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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1 Comment

  1. One of my favorite passages in all the Bible and the most fundamental. When I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strenght, then what I receive in return is more of God’s Love. For God IS Love, that not he loves, or He know about love, or it is His nature to love, but, God IS Love. When we love, we are the highest expression of who and what we are intended to be, as God created us, in His image and likeness. Love.

    God Bless
    Gary

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