Fr. Joseph Driscoll, M.Div.
Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
A blinking red light flashes at the intersection of the old and new covenant of God in Matthew's gospel today. Jesus boldly faces the lawyers out to trip him up and reduces all 613 commandments in the Israelite law to one word: love.
Can you imagine the shock of these scholars who with scrolls and texts and argument and commentary have only one word in front of them? They spent their life studying, arguing, nitpicking, reading wise commentaries, making application, settling difficult cases and firing up debates on these 613 commandments in the Law.
And in a few short words Jesus moves God's law from the courtroom of wordy debate to the street of practical living. Love God and love your neighbor.
The meaning of this word love will hang there in the balance at what will literally be a cross road of Jesus pointing his body in two directions: lifting his life to his Father in a voice of love and pouring out that same life for all humankind in an act of love.
"Into your hands I commend my spirit," he prays to his Father. And with his hands he is nailed to a tree for his neighbor.
Love God and love your neighbor.
Two thousand years later we hear this word love and wonder about its meaning is in our own culture and in our own time.
We use the word "love" from kindergarten valentines to romantic tear-jerking stories of "falling" in and out of love to passionately talking about a hobby or a favorite food. We even ritualize the experience knowing that no words can capture love's full essence.
Everyone knows the "it" in the slogan: "say it with flowers!"
Well you know what? We have ritualized Jesus' understanding of love. And unlike the romanticizing of "saying it with flowers," we have the pouring out of it with one crowned with thorns.
How many times will you and I make that sign of Christ's love — the sign of the Cross — during this hour in Church? Likely your count will add up to 5, 6, 7 — include a dip in the holy water font at the door in and out — perhaps it will be 7 or 8 times?
How many times each day rising in the morning or going to bed in the evening will we define the essence of what love has to do with us by using our hands?
We too reduce all 613 demands on us — or all 6013! demands on us — to two commandments.
That's love. We say it with our hands. We make the sign of the Cross with our hands and that is love according to Jesus.
Jesus' ministry was one of "saying it with his hands." His hands were healing hands.
The gospels record Jesus reaching out and bringing God's healing love with his hands.
He touches the leper — with his hands; he puts his finger in the ear of the deaf man — with his hands; he makes a mud-spittle and smears the eyes of the blind man — with his hands; he lifts up the dead girl from the mat — with his hands.
The need for the healing hands of love is not a need that stopped in the cultural divide of 1st century Palestine. Every people of every time with no exception will cross the intersection of human frailty and human desire for a faith in a God who is love.
Every person in this Church has been, or is, or will be yet again touched by illness and suffering.
Some of us in this Church will go this week to visit a loved one in a hospital or a nursing home. Some of us in this Church will write a card, make a phone call or prepare a meal for someone who is sick and suffering.
In a few minutes — all of us as a community in this Church will pray for those sick and suffering and some we will even call out by name. All this love is "saying it with our hands."
Love God and love your neighbor. Pray and act on your prayer. Hands lifted up and hands lifted out.
Look down at your hands. How can your hands be the healing hands loving God and loving neighbor?
Who in your family is suffering from illness right now? Who in your neighborhood? Who at your workplace? What friend of yours is ill or who has a parent or a child suffering from sickness?
Who in the words from the book of Exodus today is "crying out" and how will they know God hears their cry? Will it be you who will be the love of God for your neighbor? Will it be your hands that heal?
Will you "imitate" Jesus, as St. Paul exhorts the Church at Thessalonica to do so by "welcoming the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit?"
I remember a story of a person visiting her neighbor in the hospital. He was an extremely obese man who sat in his chair and was talking on and on for a long period of time. She patiently listened to him aware that he lived y himself and was probably lonesome.
Finally when it was time to go and so she stood and reached out her hand and placed it on his shoulder as she was saying "goodbye." As soon as she touched him he stopped talking mid-sentence. She slowly sat back down in the stillness and with no words the tears flowed down his cheeks. She said nothing. She just waited. Finally after what seemed a very long time the man quietly said, "you know when you look like me nobody ever touches you."
That's a healing story. In fact that's a gospel story. That is "welcoming the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit."
Look down at your hands. How can you "say it with your hands" this week?
Say what? Love God and love your neighbor.
Hint: use your hands.