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This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the two most important commandments which summarize Jesus’ teachings: love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor like yourself.
Most of us embrace this, at least to a point. The important question is, who do we believe to be our neighbor? Sure, it is easy to love those we interact with on a daily basis and those we are comfortable with. It is, however, clear that Jesus does not want us to stop there, neither does the Church.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus clarifies who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the poor person. This reading also makes it quite clear how God feels about failure to do so. God’s punishment for those who oppress a stranger, wrong a widow or orphan, or extort a poor neighbor is quite simple: “I will kill you with the sword.” Even if we do not take this literally, the message is clear: this kind of behavior is unacceptable to God.
The biggest temptation and greatest danger to Christianity is the ease with which we water down its meaning and white-wash its message. History clearly teaches how this has led to the abuse and high jacking of Christianity by outside interests. History also confirms how Christians at times have been manipulated to support ideologies that are paradoxical to Christianity.
A very poignant example is the Holocaust. The holocaust is the antithesis of the first and second commandment. The Holocaust was able to happen because people were made to believe that Jews, Roma, people with disabilities, and homosexuals are not our neighbor. This very thought still supports the discrimination of these and many other people, even today.
Another horrific example is the justification and support of slavery by Christians which led to unconscionable atrocities in this and many other countries. The erroneous and evil thought that allowed slavery to exist is still reverberating in the deeply rooted sin of racism that rears it ugly head over and over again in our society and in our institutions.
If we are indeed followers of Christ we are to love ALL people as our neighbors and we are to love them as ourselves. That is exactly what Christ asks us to do.
Our mission as Christians is to protect and support unborn children, but also those children who have been born. Our mission is to make sure all children have access to education. Our mission is to make sure everyone has housing, clothing, food. Our mission is to eradicate all discrimination and to work for justice and equality for all regardless of race, gender, creed or way of life. Our mission is to welcome the stranger rather than to put them in cages or to build walls to keep them out. Our mission is to provide healthcare for everyone especially those suffering due to COVID 19 during this current pandemic. Our mission is to make sure that our planet is safe from human exploitation and destruction and is preserved for future generations. Our mission is to end and prevent wars. Our mission is to abolish the death penalty.
In sum, our mission as Christians is to love our neighbor; every neighbor; all neighbors, without exception, no matter how different they are from us, for it is what God commands us to do, no more, no less. That is true Christianity.