Today’s readings are extremely important, especially as we near Election Day. They remind us to consider the candidates’ rhetoric, track-records and policies, not solely political party affiliation. They also compel us to ask the questions: Who has shown care for vulnerable populations? Who cares about how we treat one another? Who promotes love?
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt 22:39, Lev 19:18)
How do you show love to your neighbors?
Do you treat people who look different than you as neighbors?
How can the Gospel inform your vote on election day?
In the first reading, from Exodus, the Israelites travel through the wilderness toward the promised land. After the exodus from Egypt, they receive laws, first the Ten Commandments and then hundreds of additional laws. The laws themselves were written after they were settled in the land, and they include reflections, aspirations and reminders of the exodus experience for future generations.
The reading highlights groups who are most vulnerable and susceptible to abuse: resident aliens, widows and orphans. Laws are enacted to protect these people and punish their oppressors. The spirit of these laws is to remind the Israelites to care for those who are marginalized and most in need. The text instills the importance of empathy and memory, as the Israelites are to care for resident aliens, motivated by their own recollection of suffering, “for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” As we elect leaders, consider who cares about vulnerable groups. What policies have been promoted that offer protection to those most in need?
In the Gospel, Jesus is confronted with another test by the Pharisees. A lawyer in their group asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest, and Jesus responds with a paraphrase of two laws: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is a partial quote of the Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel”), a Jewish prayer that affirms the oneness of God and the importance of faithful worship to God (see Dt 6:4-5). Jesus adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” a partial quote of Lev 19:18.
Jesus proclaims that the whole law and the prophets hinge on these two laws, so the implications are significant for Jesus’ ancient audience and for modern Christians. Arguably, today’s Gospel has one of the most important teachings of Jesus, in which he draws on his Jewish heritage to affirm tradition and shine a light on what is most important: love.
As has been mentioned in previous columns, there are multiple words in Hebrew and Greek for love. The words in these two passages are ahavah in Hebrew and agape in Greek, whose meanings go beyond simple affection toward God and others. These words are calls to demonstrate sincere commitment to God through actions in service to God and each other.
There are tangible things that can be done to show love. Love is implementing policies that protect the vulnerable and penalize oppressors. Love is reprimanding people who brandish weapons at those working for racial justice rather than applauding intimidation and instigation of hateful acts. Love is treating all humans as neighbors, not just those who look like you. Love is fighting for life.
It is hypocritical to pretend that advocacy for unborn life can override our responsibility to speak up in defense of every vulnerable life, or that advocacy for marginalized groups can absolve us of the need to defend the unborn. It is equally problematic to disregard the many people who live with and suffer from the evils of poverty, racism and violence while claiming to be pro-life.
So, if you are thinking of using Scripture to help you decide how to cast your ballot, Jesus’ message is utterly clear: love. Americans have been divided by rhetoric and actions fueling hate and division, actions that are in opposition to Jesus’ call for love. On election day and always, let the Gospel message of love influence whom you choose as your leaders.