30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By: Fr. John Reddy, CSB
All through his public ministry Jesus faced opposition from the religious and political authorities. I suppose it should come as no surprise that both the political and religious leaders of his day tried to entrap Jesus. His teaching unnerved both groups and if they could trap him into giving the wrong answer he could be condemned and his teaching ignored. But the voice of the Lord cannot be silenced. Jesus call to love is meant for all people to hear and embrace. It is Christ-like love which gives life meaning and purpose.
In our own time there is still that tension between politics and Christ’s teaching – whether it is politics in the Church or in the secular world. In the American presidential election we can see clearly attempts to manipulate Christian teaching. One political group is pampering to the extreme right of Christianity, using one issue to divide. The other political group is using the same issue in an attempt to attract support from the extreme left wing of Christianity; politics dividing believers. In today’s Gospel reading we are told that after the Sadducees have been silenced by Jesus, it was the Pharisees who next tried to entrap him. Jesus brilliantly avoided the trap. The great commandment is to love God above all and to love our neighbour. The goal of all service – religious and political – is to serve the common good, the well-being of all people. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians all tried to silence Jesus’ prophetic voice. Although the Gospels tell us that these three groups despised one another, they were united in their desire to silence and destroy Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters. The Church’s social teaching testifies to this again and again. But the Gospel command to love without limits seems to unnerve some groups.
A militant Catholic group claims that the Pope’s latest encyclical On Fraternity and Social Friendship is a personal attack on Mr. Trump and an attempt to overthrow him in the election. The Pope’s focus is much broader than that. Francis is witnessing to Gospel teaching, reminding all people that we are children of God and that we must see one another in that light. Francis strives to be a prophetic voice faithful to the Gospel and speaking to all peoples, regardless of religion or politics.
For a variety of reasons in recent decades the Church has lost much of its credibility. Some religious leaders hide behind a rigidity which stifles the Gospel. More and more people claim that it has no place in the political and public realm. Politicians claim that they can separate their private faith from their political responsibilities. In fact there is no such thing as private faith in that sense. Our faith flows from our relationship with Christ. We are a Gospel people. The idea of an individualistic faith which is no one’s concern but mine is a warped understanding of what Christian discipleship is. As we strive to love God above all and to love our neighbour, we cannot claim that our faith is a private matter. It is to be evident in how we live and how we approach others, in our words and in our actions.
Perhaps in our time we need to be more precise. While the Church faces a crisis of credibility, the Gospel does not. Every politician and political party, every religious and every secular leader should be challenged by teaching of the Gospel. After all it is the revelation of God among us and is the way for all human beings to live in harmony with one another. I am not saying that we should spend our time trying to proselytise people of other religious traditions. The teaching of the Church is abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit is at work in all faiths which call people to compassion and to wisdom. When the Gospel is presented clearly it is impossible to say that it does not belong in matters of the state. The call to love God above all and to love our neighbour must be the basis on which we build society. Political and religious leaders must constantly be reminded of this. The values of the Gospel belong in every area of human life – religious and political. What a different world it would be if everyone who held a position of leadership were to be guided by the Great Commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.” For leaders who do not know God, the second part of the commandment should be enough to encourage them to build a world of justice, compassion and peace. Love is what gives meaning to human life – love of God and love of neighbour. Whatever our state is in life, we benefit from hearing and embracing the Gospel call to love God and to love our neighbour. That is what Christianity is all about.