Sunday, October 29, 2023

Empowered & Formed for the Dance

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 17(18): 2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Picture: cc Rusty Clark on Flickr

My dear friends, have you seen an air dancer before? Businesses sometimes use it to attract customers. It’s a giant inflatable tube, shaped like a person with long flailing arms, dancing energetically. The tube is made of soft material, and connected to a powerful fan. The air from the fan powers the dance. That’s why it’s called an air dancer. Without air there is no dance. The whole structure collapses.

I find it helpful to keep this image in mind, as we ponder the greatest commandment of the Law. Or rather, the inseparable twin commands to love God with all of one’s being, and one's neighbour as oneself. For when I hear this, I tend to think too quickly of obligations I need to fulfil. Which is not exactly wrong. After all, it is said that love should show itself more in deeds than words. And yet, isn’t it possible to be so burdened by obligations as to end up suffocating love itself? Isn’t this what happens to Jesus’ opponents in the gospel? Their obsession with fulfilling obligations makes them so judgmental and hypocritical, they end up plotting to have Jesus killed. This is, of course, a failure to fulfil the obligation to love. But could it be that even before it is an obligation, the call to love is first a channel of power? Could this be why Jesus says that upon this command hangs the whole Law, and the Prophets? Like an air dancer without air, separated from love, the whole of our spiritual life collapses.

So how then to stay connected to love, so as to keep dancing to its ever-shifting rhythms? The readings show us how by highlighting two spiritual locations where human weakness encounters God’s strength. In the second reading, this happens in the community of disciples, the Body of Christ on earth. Through which the Thessalonians received the gospel in the joy of the Holy Spirit, giving them power to turn away from the worship of idols, to become servants of the real, living God. And not just power. The community also provides formation, by offering living examples of what the love of God and neighbour looks like. Models both to imitate and to become for others. Power and formation, accessible especially when the community gathers for the Eucharist, as we are doing now.

But that’s not all. The encounter between human weakness and God’s strength isn’t confined to the community alone. It also happens wherever there are vulnerable people. Such as those in the first reading. The strangers and widows, the orphans and the poor. All of whom are still with us today. Not just migrants and refugees, but all those who, for whatever reason, don’t feel like they belong. And isn’t it possible to be widowed and orphaned not just by death, but also by overwork and other forms of idolatry and addiction? Even before it is an obligation, contact with and care for the poor is a privileged place to meet and be strengthened by the God of compassion, who chooses to identify with the poor.

Sisters and brothers, as people whose lives are often filled with many obligations, how shall we make space for God to empower and form us for Christ’s dance of love today?

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