Sunday 30 A 10/23/11 St. Mary of the Angels
Exodus 22:20-26; Thessalonians 1:5c-10;
When Pharisees, Sadducees, and Lawyers question Jesus, their questions usually come from the head. They ask questions like: “Who is my neighbor?” “Is it lawful to
pay the census tax to Caesar?” And they seek to engage Jesus in a theological, argumentative discussion. Jesus responds
by going to the heart. Who is my neighbor? Jesus tells the parable of the Good
Samaritan. Is it lawful to pay the census tax? Jesus says, “…repay … to God what belongs to God,”
i.e., give yourself to God.
Today one such scholar challenges, “Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” There are some 600 laws to choose from. That
should make for a long discussion! Again,
Jesus goes right to the heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all
your mind.” And then joins a second one to the first: “You shall
love your neighbor as yourself.” And then significantly adds, “The
whole Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. These two are the foundation for all the other 600 laws. All the other laws focus on outer actions, on behavior. Jesus focuses on inner attitude, on love. There is a big difference.
Let me relate a story, not mine.
A woman took her mother who had a stroke into her home. The
daughter was very solicitous and attentive to her mother’s every need. Nevertheless,
one day, a terrible fight broke out – over a hard boiled egg. In the middle
of the war of words, the mother stopped short and asked, “Why are you doing all this for me anyway?” The daughter began to list reasons: she was afraid for her mother. She wanted her to get well. She had neglected her mother before and wanted to make up for it. She wanted her mother able to live on
her own again, etc. etc.
When she finished her list of reasons, her mother responded, “Junk!”
“Junk?’ the daughter yelled.
“Yes, junk,” she replied, a little more quietly.
And then went on, “You don’t have to have all those reasons. We
love each other; That’s enough.”
Her daughter replied, “You’re right. You’re really right. I’m sorry.”
And her mother said, “Don’t be sorry. Junk
is fine. But, it’s what you don’t need anymore. I love you.”
The daughter’s actions were coming from every place
inside her except from the one place her mother needed and wanted them to come from, the place of love, her heart.
Her story touches other stories and our stories. Do I
visit a sick person because that is what I should do? Do I cook a meal because
that is what is expected of me? Does a father watch his son’s football
game because that is what fathers are supposed to do? Do we come to Sunday Mass
because we would feel guilty if we didn’t? Do we serve the poor to satisfy
our conscience? Do I empty the dishwasher or make the coffee in the morning so
that my community will like me? Do I consider it a good day if I complete my
“to do” list? Of course! But
it is still “junk.” All these actions and sacrifices are good for whatever reason.
But the reasons are still, “Junk.” -- good “junk,”
but still “junk.”
There is within all of us a space that I want to call, “heart-space.” When our actions come out of heart-space, we have moved beyond obligations, “shoulds,” expectations,
or guilt. We reach out to this person or that situation because of this loving
space within. We are not always there in that heart-space, but we know when we
are there because our actions feel different and we feel different.
Buddhist spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, expresses it in a different way: “When you wash dishes,
wash dishes.” Do we “get” it?
Do we do it?
Do we wash dishes with our attention on the act of washing or just to get them done and so move on
to something more important and more interesting? Can you in your imagination
see and feel the difference between washing dishes to wash dishes and washing dishes to finish a necessary task? Was there a difference for the daughter in serving her mother because she loved her rather than carrying
out her filial obligations? Whether the daughter knew the difference, it is clear
that the mother felt the difference? Is there a difference in our actions
when they come or do not come out of our heart-space? Do the people whom we serve
feel the difference?
It is like the story of the father, rushing out of the house to work, notices his son playing with
his toys. The father feels guilty because he has not spent much time with his
son. So, he stops and begins to play. Wonderful! But his son looks up and asks, “Dad, why are you angry with me?” Even, or especially, children, feel when adults are in their heart space or somewhere
When Jesus speaks of love, whether of God or neighbor, He is speaking of our heart-space. Are we living in and from our heart-space? Are we nourishing our heart-space? Is our heart-space expanding? Are we responding to the world
out of our heart-space? To paraphrase Jesus, we can say, “The whole Law
and the prophets depend on our living from our heart-space.” I know that it makes all the difference in me when I do
or do not. I know when I wash dishes to wash dishes and when my mind and heart
are elsewhere. And I suspect that others can see it too.
Hopefully, one of the reasons why we do come to the Eucharist each Sunday is because we want to fill
our heart-space with the presence of God/Jesus who is Love, in whom there is heart-space big enough to hold all of us at every
(Stories taken from On Earth as It is in Heaven, John Shea)
Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ
Brighton, MA 02135