Sunday, October 26, 2014

Living Love & Telling Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc Robert Couse-Baker

Sisters and brothers, do you ever think about the importance of being able to tell the time? To know what time it is is also to know where I need to be. And what I need to do. Have you ever missed an important appointment, for example? Or a valuable career opportunity, perhaps? Or even an episode of your favourite Korean drama? Simply because you lost track of time? Doing the things we love often depends upon knowing what time it is. But what does it take to tell time? And to do it accurately?

Imagine, for a moment, the face of a clock. The kind that has moving hands. Rather than changing numbers. What do you think are the more important parts that make up this machine? The things that enable it to keep time? I’m no expert. But I think a clock has three main components. The first is the mechanism inside the clock. The moving internal parts that usually remain unseen. These are crucial. They have to move at just the right speed. Otherwise the clock will either run too fast or too slow.

And yet, as important as it is, the internal mechanism alone is not enough for us to tell the time. We also need the hands on the face of the clock. By pointing at the right numbers, the hour, the minute, and the second hands indicate to us the exact time at any given moment. But that’s not all. For the clock to keep accurate time, at least one more important component is needed. Something called the pivot. This is the slender rod at the centre of the clock, which joins the mechanism to the hands. Translating the regular internal movement into a reliable external reading. Without the pivot, the inner mechanism might continue to move, but the hands will not turn. The clock would be useless.

Internal mechanism. External hands. Connecting pivot. Three essential components to an accurate clock. Three things that help us to tell time. To know where we need to be and what we need to do at any given moment. To understand what life requires of us. And how we should respond. Sisters and brothers, as strange as it may sound, I believe that this is also what our Mass readings present to us. Today, our readings provide us with something like the face of a clock. Helping us to see for ourselves what time it is in our lives as Christians. And what God requires of us here and now.

Like any good clock, there are three main parts. First, the internal mechanism. In the gospel, the Pharisees try to disconcert Jesus–to trip him up– by asking him a complex legal question. Which is the greatest commandment of the Law? This is a difficult question, because the Law, as you know, consists of no less than 613 commandments. To single out one of these as the most important is no easy task. And yet, by trying to be difficult, the Pharisees actually help to uncover for us exactly what it is that makes Jesus tick. The inner mechanism that drives the Lord’s every thought and word and action. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love of God and love of neighbour. This is what moves Jesus. What leads him to descend from heaven onto the earth and into the grave. And then, at the appointed time, to ascend again back into the sky. And if this is true of Jesus, our Master. Then it should also be true of us, his disciples, as well. Our interior lives should also be motivated by the same movement of love.

But that’s not all. The interior movement of love needs also to be translated into concrete external actions. Actions like those described in the first reading. Here, having freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, God enters into a covenant with them. Teaching them how they are to live in the Promised Land. God’s instructions are very practical and detailed. They show the Israelites what love of God and of neighbour look like in the particular situation in which they find themselves. Specifically, the love commandment translates into caring for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan. Three groups of people who are especially vulnerable at the time. Keeping the love commandment also means showing mercy to the poor. Refusing to charge them interest on a loan. Not depriving them of what they need to keep warm at night...

Like the hands of a clock, the first reading shows us what love requires of the people of Israel in their own particular situation. It indicates to us what love looks like in the concrete. And it should also move us to look at our own situation. To consider, for example, who are the most vulnerable in our midst. Who are the equivalent of the foreigner and the widow. The orphan and the poor. To identify the ways in which our society may be exploiting the needy. By abusing migrant workers for example. Those who arrive on our shores seeking a better life. By confiscating their passports. By making them pay exorbitant agency fees. By treating them more like commodities than human beings. Or even by neglecting or mistreating our very own children. By pressurising them to perform beyond their capabilities. Sisters and brothers, what do you think? To what forms of vulnerability and need might the turning hands of the clock of God’s love be pointing to us? And how are we being invited to respond?

To answer these questions honestly, there is something else that we need. Something that connects the internal movements to the external actions of love. We need a pivot. Which is what we find in both the responsorial psalm and the second reading. The psalm does this through the power of memory. It reminds us of how God is our rock, our fortress, our saviour. Our shield, our mighty help, our stronghold. It invites us to remember–as we do every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist–how God has been and continues to be a safe refuge for us in all our trials and temptations. It also inspires us to make a return. Of love for love. To respond by saying–not just with our lips, but also with our lives–I love you, Lord, my strength.

We find a similar connection, a similar pivot, in the second reading. Here St. Paul congratulates the Thessalonians for successfully translating their faith into action. How do they achieve this? By doing two things. Observation and imitation. You observed the sort of life we lived, Paul tells them, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord. The Thessalonians are able to do what is required of them by remaining connected with the same love that moves and empowers Paul and the Lord Jesus himself. And, by doing this, they themselves, in their turn, become a great example for others everywhere to follow. An example even for us to follow. If only we are willing to observe and to imitate the love of the Lord and of his saints. Both those who have gone before us. As well as those who may still be walking among us. Sitting next us...

Sisters and brothers, as it is with a clock, so too with the love of God and of neighbour. To be able to tell the time accurately, we need three things: interior movement, external actions, and a connecting pivot. What are we doing to continue reading and responding to the signs of our time today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord,

    Be MY LIGHT,

    Be the LAMP onto my feet

    Lead me to WALK in Your ways and keep me ever close to You.

    Let me never be parted from You, my Lord, My God and my All. Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing, 26 October 2014


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