30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
My dear friends, do you know what time it is? How would you find out? Now, of course, many of us use our phones. But not so long ago, all we had to look at was a clock. And I don’t mean a digital clock, but an analogue one. The kind with moving hands, rather than flashing numbers. But have you ever considered how a clock like that tells time? What does it need to do so? I’m no expert. But I think it has three main components. The first is the mechanism inside the clock. The internal parts that remain unseen. These are crucial. They have to continue moving at just the right speed. In order for the clock to keep good time.
But the internal mechanism alone is not enough. The clock also needs to express that interior movement in an exterior way. That’s what the hour, minute, and second hands do. They point to the correct numbers on the clock’s face, so that we can read the time. And for the clock to keep accurate time, at least one more important part is needed. Something called the pivot. 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 cannot be read.
Internal mechanism. External hands. Connecting pivot. Three components of an accurate clock. Three things that help us to tell time. To know where we need to be and what we need to do. To understand what life requires of us. Sisters and brothers, strange as it may sound, I believe that this is also what our Mass readings offer us today. A kind of spiritual clock, allowing us to read the signs of our times. To realise what God might be asking of us here and now.
Again, 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 consists of no less than 613 commandments. To single out one of these as the most important is not an easy task. And yet, although difficult and devious, the Pharisees’ question uncovers exactly what it is that makes Jesus tick. The inner mechanism that motivates 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. The primary motivation for everything Jesus does. The power that moves him to descend from heaven to earth. From cross to tomb. So that we might be raised from death to life. And if this is true of Jesus, the Master, then it should also be true of us, his disciples. Our lives should also be powered by the same interior movement of love. A movement that begins when we allow ourselves gratefully to receive God’s love in Christ.
But that’s not all. The interior movement of love needs to be expressed in concrete external 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. And God’s instructions are very practical. They show the Israelites what the love commandment looks like in practice. It translates into caring for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan. Three of the most vulnerable groups of people at the time. 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 how the inner law of love is expressed in outward action. And it should also inspire us to examine our own situation. To consider who are the more vulnerable among us. The modern-day counterparts of the foreigner and the widow, the orphan and the poor. People like the many migrant workers among us, for example. Those who arrive on our shores seeking a better life. Those who build our roads and care for our children. To consider how some of us might unknowingly abuse them, by viewing them with disdain and suspicion. Or by treating them more like objects than human beings. We may consider also how our very own children are sometimes neglected and mistreated. When their care-givers prioritise work over spending quality time with them. Or when they are pressured to perform beyond their capabilities. Just to inflate our own egos. Sisters and brothers, what do you think? What does love and mercy need to look like today?
To answer this question adequately, there is something else that we need. A pivot that helps us connect the internal movements to the external actions of love. Which is what we find in the second reading. Here St Paul congratulates the Thessalonians for successfully translating their faith into action. How do they do this? Through 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. And even to become models for others to observe and to imitate. Sisters and brothers, are we not called to do the same? To observe and to imitate worthy models of Christian living? Above all, of course, the model provided for us in Christ. Whose merciful love we celebrate at this Mass. But also the examples of the many saints who have gone before us. Saints like our patron St Ignatius of Loyola, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. As well as the saints who may still be walking among us. More famous ones, like our beloved pope, who lives in Rome. But also the less known ones, like the kind neighbour next door, or the fellow parishioner in the same pew beside me.
Sisters and brothers, like its physical counterpart, a spiritual clock needs three things to keep good time: interior movements of love, and exterior acts of mercy, connected by inspiring models of life. Where do we find these components in our own lives? What time is it for us, for you and for me, today?