29 October. 30th Sunday in OT

Saint Colman, bishop

To love our neighbour as God does, prejudices of race, religion and colour have to go. The Torah urges fairness towards others as a principle deeper than specific laws. Jesus shows a life of utterly unselfish loving, inviting us to that quality of life. For Saint Paul, the imitation of Christ is the core of spirituality

1st Reading: Exodus 22:20-26

The Israelites must show fairness in practical matters

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the children of Israel this:

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.
If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.
If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbour’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbour cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”

2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The fervour of the Thessalonian converts encouraged other local churches

Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus’ summation of morality as the twofold commandment of love

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


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The great Shema

Kieran O’Mahony

Jesus repeats the great prayer of Judaism, the Sh’ma Yisrael. It is one of those threshold passages, which holds open the door between Christianity and Judaism, our mother religion. As St Paul puts it: For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).

For his exegetical comments on today’s readings, click here.

Doing justice in love

Our Scriptures set out a clear imperative: to really love God involves doing  justice in our world. People who would claim to be Christian sometimes show little respect for love or justice. Political and economic decision are taken for reasons far from sharing and fairness. The signs of greed and scrabbling for power and profit can be seen in our daily papers. We are closer to the paganism described by St Paul than we may imagine. Today no less than in the time of Christ, public opinion is often hostile to what he represents, making it hard to take a stand even on important issues of justice and compassion. For Jesus, love for God and love for others are two aspects of the same call. There is no contradiction between them, even though sometimes one feels trapped in a situation where a particular law of Church or State seems to conflict with fraternal love.

We could start by reflecting on how we love ourselves. Love of neighbour becomes virtually impossible in the agony of self-hatred in which some unfortunate people can find themselves. Loving the other as oneself only becomes possible if we have a sane level of self-appreciation. This is a sound principle, which should be mentioned in church, even though Christian love transcends the transient vogues of psychology. Its ideal is the example of Christ himself, with his commitment to justice for the poor.

Recent decades have seen a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants coming to live among us in Ireland. We have changed from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural, multi-racial society. Today’s readings invite reflection on how well we receive these strangers, make them feel at home in our society and in our church. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” They are distinct from us, and, often, different from us. The saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” expresses the fact that “Like attracts like.” It is tempting to limit ourselves to the company of people like ourselves. But Jesus gathered a community of of very diverse characters. Even his inner twelve included a tax-collector and a zealot, men from opposite ends of the political spectrum. In a similar way, the Spirit of the Lord at work in our lives prompts us to connect with people of different background, as well as those who are like ourselves. The one we initially find strange can reveal surprising things to us. We pray this morning for a greater openness to the many ways the Lord comes to us in life.

The heart of the matter

Life today can seem hopelessly complicated. We value people who have the gift of seeing through the complexities of an issue and zoom in on the heart of the matter. Such people help us avoid missing the wood for the trees. They clearly defend and distinguish what really matters from the things that are less important. They encourage us to put our energy in what is worthwhile, rather than dissipating ourselves on what is not significant.

Jesus knew how to go to the heart of the matter. On one occasion someone asked him to intervene in a family dispute about inheritance. In his reply, he ignored the concrete issue and, instead, he called on the person who approached him to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Lk 12:13-15). He saw that the real issue was not the details of the particular case but the greed which underlay the dispute.

This capacity to get to the heart of the matter is clear from his response to the question put to him by one of the Pharisees, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” In those days scholars numbered 613 commandments in the Jewish Law. The potential to miss the wood for the trees was enormous. Preoccupation with minute regulations could result in people ignoring what really matters, like straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel (Mt 23:24). Jesus answered the Pharisee’s question by going straight to the heart of the Jewish law. He was asked if there is one great commandment, but in reply he named the second greatest commandment as well. For the first commandment, loving the Lord your God with all our heart and soul, is inseparable from the conjoined commandment, of loving my neighbour as myself. For Jesus, what God wants from us above all else is love. There is no genuine love of God unless it finds expression in love of our neighbour. Love of neighbour, in turn, presupposes a healthy self-love, recognising and appreciating myself as fundamentally good, because I am created in the image and likeness of God..

The human side of holiness

In his epistle for today, Saint Paul mentions how closely he mixed with his fellow Christians and the authority of his word among his converts seems to have sprung from the quality of his life, the example he set them. His attitudes and work-habits were in tune with the message that he delivered. His commitment to the task was evidenced by the troubles he had to bear, while spreading the good news. There was an intrinsic link between what he said and how he lived. The word spoken gave meaning to the life lived and the quality of the life guaranteed the sincerity of the word. The people of Salonika accepted his message and found that it had a power to change their own outlook on life. Paul names their experience “joy of the Holy Spirit.” They touched the living Spirit of God in the midst of their own lives.

Genuine human concern that touches lives is an effective sacrament of the transcendent love of God. The homilist might look at the mystery of the Christian God from the point of view of God’s transcendence and immanence. The love of God is actually enfleshed in the nitty-gritty of human interpersonal relationships. The authenticity of our religion is guaranteed by the value of our love for real people. One could use the image of the flower that is rooted in the soil; it grows slowly by transforming the elements of the soil in to its own living cells and eventually reaches up to the beauty of the sky with its own form, colour and scent. The one sap enlivens the root, the stalk, the flower and produces the perfume.

A Christian life is rooted in the earth but reaches up to the mystery of God through living in love. Another possible development might stem from Paul’s noting the Thessalonians’ reputation spreading through the surrounding area. People were drawn to the Christian faith by the way these people were leading their lives. The word of the good news diffused itself quietly through people admiring the way the Christians lived. People can be quick to condemn those who have offbeat values or live a different lifestyle. We can fail to appreciate the faltering efforts others make to cope with the struggles of frail human nature. If we could plumb the depths of meaning in our own personal life histories we might be able to forge more effective link with others. The gift of our humanity, savoured and appreciated, can become mirror and window to the mystery of God for ourselves. It can be more a more effective means of evangelisation than all the hype of religious words that often only confirm the “converted” in their convictions.

Saint Colman, abbott and bishop

Colman (7th century, c. 560-632 ) from Kilmacduagh, Co Galway, studied on Aranmore Island, where he founded two churches before returning to make another foundation at Kilmacduagh. Towards the end he was a recluse, living austerely in a cave at the Burren in County Clare.


  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    A few scattered thoughts.
    The “Shemáh”, the “Sh’ma Yisrael” referred to in Kieran O’Mahony’s notes above: The Jewish tradition is to recite Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “when you lie down and when you rise up”, as it says. A constant reminder.
    This text too is contained in the “Mezuzah”, the small container fixed to the external and internal doors in a Jewish household, which people touch as they pass through, as a constant reminder: written on the doorframes, as it says:
    4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
    5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
    6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
    8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
    9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
    How about that idea to suggest – from now to Christmas, or every day regardless, to recite those words?
    How much courage would it take to recite those words every morning and evening, to have them on our hearts and minds, impress them on our children, remind ourselves of them every time we pass through a doorway?
    A similar custom to the holy water font many Catholic homes used to have at the door, though not so much nowadays: a constant reminder of our new life in Christ. I remember too something that my mother used to pin to the pram: a badge stitched around the edge, with a picture of the Sacred Heart inside, and a tiny medal (I don’t know of what), and a tiny piece of paper with the beginning of the gospel according to John. (I opened one up to find out!) Another way of constant reminder.
    The fact that it is a commandment to love is a reminder that we’re not talking here about emotion or feeling, which can be affected by the weather, or what we ate, or what someone said to us. It’s the Covenant commitment that binds us together as God’s people.
    It’s important too to remember that this is the great commandment of the Law. But it’s not the greatest element of faith. If faith were to be measured by how we observe that commandment, it would not have the constancy. Prior to the commandment is the reality of Gods love for us – and God’s faithfulness is far more constant than ours. Our love springs from God’s love for us.
    Remembering Martin Luther’s 95 theses on Hallowe’en 1517 in Wittenberg, his reminder of the priority of God’s action and mercy and love is vital. Sadly it was hijacked by obstinacy on both sides, and by the hijacking of the call to reform by so many other interests, so that it resulted in centuries of strife and division.
    I wonder too about the translation, “the second (commandment) is like the first.” Perhaps some Greek scholar could say whether it conveys the force of the Greek word “homoia.” It seems too weak a rendering. Would it be straining the language to translate it, “The second is the match for the first”? We can’t have one without the other. On these two, inseparable, hang the whole law and the prophets.
    “My God is my rock, my fortress, my saviour” (Psalm). As Martin Luther put it in his famous hymn: “A mighty fortress is our God,” “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”.
    Luther’s birthday is on Nov 11, feast of St Martin of Tours. There’s an old tradition that St Martin was an uncle to St Patrick. Near Tours there’s a village with the name Saint Patrice, with the legend that St Patrick spent a December night under a bush there, and the bush thereafter flowered every Christmas (it’s documented) until it was destroyed in the First World War.
    St Martin’s day is a big celebration in many European countries: Martinstag or Martinmas.
    Desertmartin in Co Derry is from Irish “Díseart Máirtín”: the “desert” or hermitage of St Martin.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    An addendum!
    In the reading from Exodus, the people of Israel have experienced the compassion of God in their liberation from Egypt. They are called to embody that compassion by taking steps to ensure that nobody living among them is deprived of that experience of liberation. Who are the “widows and orphans” in the world of today? Who are the strangers among us who do not experience the civil liberties which are an inalienable right of every human being?
    Ibrahim Halawa this week has experienced liberation from Egypt. His stated intention is to do whatever he can for those deprived of liberty to share his experience.

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