Sunday, October 25, 2020

Reviewing Reception

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 @englishinvader

My dear friends, do you know the difference between good and bad reception? Back in the early days of television, before the arrival of cable, the quality of reception could mean the difference between a powerful movie experience, and an annoying struggle with a screen-full of static. Nowadays we might say the same about wifi.

This contrast between good and bad reception is also what we find in our Mass readings today. For when Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment of the Law consists both in loving God with one’s whole being, and loving one’s neighbour as oneself, the Lord isn’t really saying anything new. The first part of his teaching is already found in the book of Deuteronomy, and the second in Leviticus.

So why then do the Lord’s enemies want to kill him? If they know the Law so well, why are they unable to keep it? Isn’t this a question that we could ask ourselves too? Don’t we know the Law well enough? Why then do we fail to make time in our busy routines for God, and for the many who are in need of our help? Also, some say that our world already knows what is needed to eradicate hunger, and to address the global ecological crisis? Why then are we so slow to act?

The readings help to answer these questions by presenting us with a contrast between good and bad reception. In the first reading, God doesn’t just tell the people to be kind to the foreigners, widows and orphans living in their midst. God also tells them how to find the motivation to do so. By following God’s example. For God allows the cries of the needy to move God to respond mercifully. If he cries to me, I will listen, for I am full of pity. Isn’t this an example of good reception? 

In the second reading we’re told that it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that (the Thessalonians) took to the gospel. Or, in another translation, they received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. And because the Thessalonians received the gospel in this way, it becomes for them more than just empty words, but an invigorating power, energising them to do what is right. Another example of good reception.

In contrast, the gospel says the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees… They heard about the power of the Lord’s teaching. But instead of welcoming the message, they choose to find fault with the messenger. An example of bad reception. And just as good reception brings not just knowledge of the Law, but also the power to keep it, bad reception leads to hypocrisy. The failure to practice what we preach. The inability to faithfully live what we claim to believe.

In the award-winning film, Scent of a Woman, a blind retired army colonel, played by Al Pacino, utters these poignant lines: Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard... Sisters and brothers, many are saying that our world too has come to a major crossroads. What must we do to improve our reception, so as to take the right path today?

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