One of the strangest things about human existence, it seems to me, is that human beings can love someone before they even get to know them. Most of us, if not all of us, have concrete experience of that.
Because when we were born, our parents didn’t hedge their bets. They didn’t say, for example, well, I will wait to get to know who this child of mine is before I make the decision about whether or not to love them.
In my experience of seeing others, because I don’t have children of my own, I can say that it’s immediate, absolutely immediate. There’s not even a moment where there is a doubt. At this point in your life, there may be some doubts, but not when you were first born. You were loved immediately.
And so on the one hand, this gospel, well, we could say, well, it’s not very hard. Loving God with everything we have and loving our neighbor, because we have the experience of loving children, parents, brothers, sisters. But the first reading really is the challenge.
The first reading really is the difficult time to love. And when we talk about the people mentioned in the first reading, it usually brings some real difficulty in our conversation. We might get angry. We might be concerned that there isn’t enough. We might suggest that people shouldn’t really come to us when they’re in need.
Because in the book of Exodus, the people are reminded about something very powerful. That they lived in Egypt, were not free, left their country, and had been aliens, strangers, people not familiar, people who had tremendous needs, and they had to rely on God and ultimately others. But of course we know the temptation. Well, yeah, but that was different. That was us.
When other people in the same situation come in, well, they have to understand that that’s not the same. And that’s what Moses and the Lord are concerned about. You see, the people of God that left part of the Exodus and left Egypt, they weren’t the most faithful. They were like having little kids in the back of the car on vacation. Are we there yet?
Or as one of the memes I’ve seen, Moses leading the Israelites and everybody following behind him saying, recalculating, recalculating, because they wandered in the desert and did not know where they were going. They trusted in God until they didn’t. They were not an easy bunch.
I don’t know that, well, I know probably that I would not have been able to put up with them. Because no matter what happened, no matter how many miraculous deeds God did in their presence, they did not believe. They doubted.
And so God is trying to make it clear to them, you were once in these horrible situations and I took care of you. Now it’s up to you to take care of those who are in the same situations. Don’t be difficult to an alien, because you know what it’s like to be an alien. Don’t wrong any widow or orphan who in those days had no one to care for them, because I will hear their cry. Don’t act like an extortioner when you help someone. If you lend them money, don’t be an extortioner.
Now in Jewish law that meant don’t charge interest. You give them money to help, you get paid back the same amount. For nothing is really your own. Everything you have came to you as gift from God. If the pledge for a loan is a cloak, give it back when it gets cold at night, because that’s the only thing they have to sleep in, and so forth.
See that’s when it gets hard to love. When those people show up that we don’t know or don’t like, sometimes we allow our fear to overtake us. Sometimes we forget that we have not been always in the best spot and people have helped us. I’ve seen it here at CBC. Alums who had some difficulty and the community comes forward to help in this moment of difficulty.
See there’s no exceptions in what Jesus says about loving God and loving neighbor. We can’t say, well God only means that I should love these kind of people or this difficulty. Who is it that God is calling you to reach out to, to care for, that might not be easy, that might be difficult, that might challenge you to really have to work at being generous. Who is it in your life that has a real need? You know I talked to a Jesuit once, they do, I can’t remember what it’s called, there’s a word for it.
They have to go out for a period of time, usually to kind of live at whatever they can get from others. But one guy for his project, one Jesuit scholastic, decided he was going to live as a homeless person for the period of time. It was very interesting when he shared the experience.
He said the hardest part wasn’t being homeless and the hardest part wasn’t that I didn’t always have something to eat. Those were hard, but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was as if I didn’t exist. People didn’t look at me, they didn’t talk to me, they walked on the other side of the street if they saw me. It was as if I didn’t exist.
And what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel is, every other human being is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus praises those who gave someone who was thirsty something to drink, who gave someone who was hungry something to eat, who visited people when they were sick in the hospital, who visited people in prison. Because in every one of those instances and more, they were giving something to Jesus.
But that’s not really the most important point of today. The most important point today is to recognize that everything we have has been a gift. And so for those of you, sons who are here, recognize what it is your mother has done for you. Not because you deserve it, although perhaps they don’t want to go to jail until they feed you. Not because you’ve done something to earn it, but simply because you exist. And it is good that you exist.
And so today, take a moment to thank your moms for the love that they’ve given you, for the care they’ve extended to you. Take a moment to pray for them because they haven’t been perfect mothers. But you know what? You haven’t been perfect sons either, so it probably works out in the end.
Take a moment to recognize the ways in which you are who you are today because your mothers have loved you, probably more than you know or understand. And in particular, if your time at CBC is being measured in months, not years, recognize that your mothers might be a little strange these days.
See, I think the job of parenthood properly defined is it’s the job where you put yourself out of business. Your parents have been trying to raise you so that you can become interdependent human beings, mature, not living in the basement when you’re 35. Out raising your own family, loving in ways you didn’t even think were possible when you have children of your own.
But that’s not easy letting go. It’s not easy. It’s hard. And there’s going to be times where they’ll be, well, goofy. They’ll be emotional. They’ll react in ways that they don’t even understand.
But through it all, one thing will always remain true. They will love you. Not because of the greatest commandment of the law, as important as that is. They don’t love simply because God commands them to love you, something they wouldn’t do otherwise. They love you because you exist. And God loves you because you exist. So share that love with others.
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