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October 23, 1987     The Message
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October 23, 1987
 

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October 23, 1987 Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Mass Readings By FATHER Sunday's gospel reading: What is the greatest commandment? Gospel Commentary for Sunday, Oct. 25, 1987 Matthew 22:34-40 -- The Great Commandment Following the Gospel of Mark as his guide, Matthew has three problems or questions presented to Jesus. The first was the problem of paying taxes to Caesar. This was presented by the Pharisees and Herodians in an attempt to trap Jesus into the answer they wanted to hear. The second was presented by the Sadducees, usually meaning the chief priests, and concerned the resurrection of the dead. The third question or problem is today's gospel reading: What is the greatest commandment? Why such a discussion at all? This was a typical discussion among Jewish scholars of the time. According to them there were 613 distinct commandments in the Law of Moses. Two hun- dred forty eight of them were positive (Thou shalt), while 365 were negative (Thou shalt not). They were further divided into light and heavy depend- ing on the seriousness of the matter. Discussions took place as to which was the "heaviest" or most important of all. Matthew follows Mark's gospel in general but makes significant changes. These changes occur throughout his gospel and enable us to look into his mind and determine some of the problems faced by him and his church community. They also reveal some of his very human prejudices. In the parallel account in Mark we read that a scribe, here meaning a man learned in the Scriptures, ad- mired the way Jesus nao answerea the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. The same scribe then approaches Jesus with the question about the greatest commandment. Now Matthew never loses an opportunity to pin something bad on the Jewish leaders. Therefore, instead of using Mark's scribe, he writes that the Pharisees and Sadducees were behind this question and that the man who put the question was one of them and was a lawyer. Mat- thew adds that this was to test or tempt him. The enemies of Jesus are put into the position of being tempter in imitation of The Tempter of chapter 4. In his Passion story Matthew puts the very words of the Tempter "If you are the Son of God .... " into the mouth of the high priest. In answer to the question Jesus quotes directly from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The quote from Deuteronomy is part of the great Jewish profession of faith which begins with the words "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." The Hebrew word for "Hear" is SHEMA. Thus Sbema became the name for this prayer. Mark quotes these words in his gospel. Matthew omits them. Why? We know that the messiahship of Jesus and especially his divinity is the major point of disagreement between Jew and Christian. A good Jew would say that accepting the divinity of Jesus destroys the unity of God and we are left not with One God but two. The Christian believes that there are not only two but three distinct per- sons in God while His Oneness is intact. Now theology was not that developed in Matthew's time but he already affirmed a Trinity in the baptismal formula at the ed of his gospel. Here he may have dropped the introduction to the Shema to prevent his opponents from saying: "You see, Jesus himself said that God is only One." Luke also drops this introduction but for a different audience and therefore a different reason. No good Jew would disagree with the answer of Jesus from the Shema. But what now follows is new. Jesus takes the command of love of neighbor from Leviticus and puts it on an equal basis with the love of God. While Mark then writes that there is no commandment greater than these, Matthew changes this to say "On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets." That Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the words of the Old Testament prophets is of the greatest concern to Matthew. Only he adds to his Sermon on the Mount the words: "Do not think I have come to abolish the'law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them." (5:17) It is interesting to note what Matthew now erases from Mark's account. Mark has the man speaking approvingly of Jesus' answer. Jesus in turn tells the man that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. Matthew omits that whole scene of approval and blessing. Why? At the beginning he had put the Pharisees and the Sadducees behind the question and made the questioner a Pharisee. Matthew cannot bring himself to say anything favorable about a Pharisee. The reader may think that Matthew does not practice the love he preaches. At least in this case, 5 the observation is correct. When the Holy Spirit in- spired these writers She did not snatch them out of their humanity with its darker side of prejudice and little hatreds. The text is indeed inspired but the humanity of the write" remains intact. There are examples of other inspired writers who do not always practice what they preach in the matter of love of neighbor. It was St. Paul who wrote to the Roman Chris- tians (13:9) that all the commandments are summ- ed up in the single command: "You must love your neighbor as yourself." However it was the same Paul who wrote to his Galatians (5:12) that he wishes those who preach to them the necessity of circumcision would castrate themselves. And if the account in Acts 23 is historical, it was the same Paul who cursed the high priest Ananias: "God strike you, you whitewashed wall!" At that time being called "a whitewashed wall" is like ac- cusing a man today of having canine ancestry. We assume that these writers knew that Jesus meant for the love of neighbor to extend even to enemies as we see in the Sermon on the Mount and in Luke's parable of the Good Samaritan. There was also the author of the Letters of John who wrote mostly about love of God and neighbor. Among other statements: "If anyone says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar." (I John 4:20) Yet in his second letter he tells his Christians not to receive into their house nor even to greet anyone who does not agree with his own teaching "for he who greets him shares in his wicked work." (II John 11) Thus we see these men not so different from ourselves. They, too, struggled between love of neighbor and the lack of it. Despite this they became instruments of his word for all time. Love of God and neighbor eventually won out in them. Paul is bold enough to note in today's first reading that he lived such a model life among the Thessalonian Christians that they were led to become imitators of him and of the Lord. That is the lesson for us. The struggle continues in us as it did in them. Our love of God can only become perfect when we finally can act toward our neighbor as we would act toward God. Other readings for Oct. 25: Exodus 22:20.26; I Thess. 1:5.10 Vatican Letter Synod helps keep dying language from explWng By AGOSTINO BONe . NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) - Latin is pretty much a dead language, except in the Catholic Church, which has been giving the lingo a good .workout at this Oc- tober's Synod of Bishops on the laity. During the first two weeks of the synod, about 25 percent of the 230 speakers delivered their talks in Latin -- more than were given in any other language. Although the Second Vatican Council set in motion the widespread use of vernacular in the liturgy, thus removing Catholics in the pew from regular contact with the ancient tongue, Latin  is still the church's official language. Among the Latin-speaking crowd in the synod assembly hall were Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the doctrinal congrega- tion, and Cardinal Jaime L. Sin of Manila, Philippines. "Best for Evansville" Your Vote Will Be Appreciated LILLIAN CARNAGHI City Council At Large PUNCH 31 Together We Can Make The Difference PID POLITICAL ANNOUNCEMENT Although Latin is the official synod language, five modern languages are allowed: Italian, English, French, Spanish and. German. This means that delegates from Brazil, the coun- try with the largest Catholic population, cannot speak their native Portuguese on the synod floor. Most of the Latin speakers are Vatican officials, Third World bishops whose native languages stem from Latin, and bishops from countries not speaking one of the five modern tongues. As the official language, Latin has a way of spreading itself among all synod par- ticipants. Pivotal reports intended to help the delegates focus on specific issues and themes are written in Latin. There are two of these: one at the beginning of the synod and another at the midway point. The second summarizes synod speeches as a means of helping delegates formulate concrete proposals when they break into Small working groups. But Latin lost followers when the delegates divided themselves into small groups according to language. Only seven participants opted to carry out their discussion in the old tongue. Most of the participants, 102, signed up for English. French came next, with 81, followed by 72 delegates opting for Spanish groups. Cardinal Ratzinger chose Ger- man and Cardinal Sin, Spanish. The pope does not participate in the small working groups. THE SMALL WORKING groups are where' concrete synod proposals are drafted through hard bargaining. There are no prepared speeches, just extemporaneous give and take. " Although most of the words spoken at the synod, in whatever language, fall under the secrecy rule, the rule is often broken. Officially, full texts of synod speeches are not to be made See VATICAN page 18