Thursday, June 07, 2007

Thursday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Human Dignity in the Concrete

Readings: Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1bcde, 9-17; 8:4-9a; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Mark 12:28-34

As I see it, at least two things stand in the way of our reflecting more deeply upon the gospel passage for today. The first is familiarity. We all know the first and second commandment very well. Or at least we think we do. We all know we are supposed to love God and to love our neighbour. Who needs another reminder? Yet this sense of familiarity may well be an illusion, an illusion that is linked with a second obstacle: generality. Why might we think we know what Jesus is talking about even if we don’t? Isn't it because we sometimes tend to think only in general? In general, we know we have to love God and our neighbour. Yet true love manifests itself in the specific, in concrete actions, or else it is not love. I know, in general, that I have to love my neighbour, but I can quite easily forget that that means not overloading my domestic help with work, for example, or taking the time to listen to someone who needs to talk.

Which is why the ongoing story of Tobit and his family in the first reading is so useful. Today, in particular, it focuses our attention on one way in which love needs to be made manifest. It brings to mind yet another key principle in the Social Teaching of the Church: respect for the dignity of the human person. It does this at several levels. At a first level, we find a concern for the rights of a person as prescribed by the law. So Raguel tells Tobias: as prescribed by the Book of Moses, she is given to you, heaven itself decrees she shall be yours. Important as it is, however, the law is not everything. For even if Raguel may keep the letter of the law by letting Tobias marry Sarah, both he and Tobias might still infringe the spirit of the law by treating Sarah as a piece of property to be handed over from one person to another. And one may well wonder if this was how Sarah’s seven previous husbands met their doom. Could they have fallen prey to the worst of demons by failing to respect the human dignity of Sarah, by treating her as a piece of property to be used and discarded at whim?

Isn’t this why we are quite naturally impressed with the prayer of Tobias? I do not take my sister for any lustful motive, I do it in singleness of heart. This, at last, is the only firm foundation upon which a marital relationship, indeed any truly human relationship, can be built: a mutual love and respect of equals in the sight of God. Which leads our reflection on to the deepest level. Ultimately, respect for the human dignity of another is but an expression of one’s love and respect for God. For, as we were reminded only recently, it is in God’s image and likeness that we are all created. In the first reading then, especially in the example of the relationship between Tobias and Sarah, we see an image of what it looks like when people love God and love their neighbour. We also see the blessings that can result. Indeed, blessed are those who fear the Lord.

How are we being reminded to respect the dignity of God in others today?

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