Deacon Cornellís Homily

Readings: Exodus 22: 20-26
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40
Date: October 24-25, 2020, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

I don't know much; but I know I love you. And that may be all I need to know.

In today's Gospel, Jesus frustrates the Pharisees' attempt to trap him by drawing their attention to two passages in Scripture, that as Pharisees deeply schooled in the law, they would be very familiar with. Jesus collapses all 613 commandments in the Torah into those two commandments: love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. At the last Supper Jesus would further collapse the law into just one commandment: love one another as I love you. With apologies to Linda Rondstat and Aaron Neville, I can sing that phrase to God or to another human and it would be all I would need to know. That is because loving God and loving another human are just two sides of the same coin. I am capable of loving another human, in fact I am only capable of loving another human, because I am loved by God. So, as you may have guessed, I would like to talk to you today about ... sin. Yes, sin.

I think I am pretty safe in assuming that most of you usually think about sin the way I was brought up to think about it, and that is: Sin is breaking one of the commandments, either by doing something the commandments clearly say I shouldn't, or by not doing something that the commandments clearly say I should do. My idea of examining my conscience in preparation for celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation or as part of my nightly prayer was to go down the commandments (both the 10 commandments in the Old Testament and the commandments of the Church) to see if I had broken any of them. That worked for a good portion of my early life. But at some point, I found it really hard to identify with the tax collector in the parable Jesus tells about the Pharisee and the tax collector. It just felt like false humility to say, I am a sinner!

My whole idea of sin started to change about 30 years ago when I learned that the word in Scripture that we hear translated as sin in English, is chata in Hebrew, and harmatia in Greek. Chata is an archery term that means to miss the bullseye, and harmatia is a spearthrowing term that means the same thing in Greek. And what is that bullseye? To love one another as Jesus loves us! With that understanding of sin, I have no qualms about saying that I am a sinner. And I recognize that I will be a sinner for my whole life for I will never love God, myself, or any other human being the way Jesus loves me.

After I started to understand sin differently, I started to see God's law, church law, our practices, very differently as well. God's law is not like the laws passed up on Beacon Hill or in DC, rules that are imposed on us; they are more like the laws of physics which help us to understand how things really are. I went from looking at my relationship with God and sin in terms of what St. Augustine called (in today's parlance) an accounting economy and started to think of it more in terms of what St. Augustine call the gift economy. In an accounting economy, there is a conflict between what is best for the parties in any transaction. If I give you money, the best thing for you is if I do not expect anything in return. But the best thing for me is if I get something of equal or even greater value back. . This is different from a gift economy where the medium is love. If I give you love, not only does that not reduce the love that I possess but it actually increases it.

When I think of sin as a somehow balancing an account, it is easy for me to overlook parts of my behavior or attitude as not needing any forgiveness or reconciliation. But thinking of sin as my failure to gift God or someone out of love does not allow me to overlook things. Instead I am moved to re-examine my relationship with God or that other person simply in terms of how am I loving them. It would be pretty sad if I measured my relationship with my wife Betsy by whether or not that relationship was balanced, instead of trying to do all I am able to do for her. And that would be pretty sad for me as well, as I would not be moved to grow into the person God created me to be.

So I would suggest that the next time we are peparing to celebrate Reconciliation or simply doing a nightly examen, that we focus on our lives not in terms of what commandment or Church law we "broke" but on moments when we fell short of loving the way Jesus loves us. I guarantee you that looking at it this way will help us get a lot closer to the bullseye tomorrow.

Come on, sing it with me:
I don't know much; but I know I love you. And that may be all I need to know.

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