Monday, February 27, 2012

We should perform wonderful acts of mercy to the least of our brothers

By Father Perry D. Leiker

In Jesus' amazing teaching about love, compassion, he says once in the scriptures: "If you love those who love you, what good is that? Even the Pagans do as much."

This Chapter 25 of Matthew, in my opinion is for me, anyway, the most challenging and demanding and all-encompassing Gospel passage that I know. Not because of the list of things he asks us to do, those seem reasonable enough: feed the hungry, give something to drink to a person who's thirsty, clothe the naked, visit those ill or in prison. Those are normal enough, wonderful acts of mercy, but they're obvious. But what makes this list so incredible is to whom we are asked to do these things. He says: not to the greatest, not to your friends, not to the people who love you, but to the least of our brothers, the least — to our enemies, to people who hate us. And then, even more remarkably, Jesus identifies with them and says, "When you did it to them" or "When you didn't do it to them," "You did it " or "Didn't do it" to me.

Most of us, I think, of course would always do this for the Lord; but when the Lord identifies with the least in our lives, and then asks us to love him through them, it's indeed quite amazing.

Again, if we flip back to the first reading from Leviticus, it's not just a simple listing of the Ten Commandments (it's not even a complete listing), but this listing goes into some reflection about why we should follow those laws. If you listen to them — even half way — we will recognize in them that it is about compassion for our neighbor. It is about really loving. And then this connector in between — it's kind of like the cartilage between two bone movement — this responsorial psalm we kept repeating: "Your words, Lord, are spirit and life." They are spirit and life. "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple." It speaks about this law of God that concerns us with passion and love and service; a quality in our caring for one another; a turning away from anger and hatred; an all-encompassing, completely refreshing spirit of the Lord encompassed in the law, so that those who hear the law of God and keep it, who take it not just into their mind and understand it but into their heart and love it, are those who are completely and radically transformed by God who speaks to us so that, when we hear this Gospel after all of that, it really does make sense.

Jesus, I believe, is not asking these things for us to prove to him our love — he knows our love — but Jesus speaks to us about this law given to us by God that is meant to transform us, that is meant to make us new, a different people.

Today as we listen to this word, I would suggest that this would be a word that we might pull out every week of Lent and read it at least one of the days of Lent of that week, to take it in, to listen to it, to ask ourselves: How do I live this? How do I feel with this word? How does this go down with me? Because if this word creeps into our bones and into our soul and actually begins to transform us, I think that we will get the power of Lent, we will get the power of God in this Lent, and actually we will find ourselves dying and rising.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

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