Deacon Patrick Brannigan
Deacon Patrick Brannigan

The following is a homily delivered Feb. 12 by Deacon Patrick Brannigan in his parish of St. James, Pennington. It appears in The Monitor courtesy of Deacon Brannigan, who also serves as executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey.

Today’s First Reading from Sirach focuses on our free will – our ability to decide on our own whether we choose to keep or not to keep God’s Commandments.

Sirach tells us that if we do keep God’s Commandments, we will be saved. What are these Commandments that we need to keep? 

Sirach is talking about the Law of Moses – the “Law” that in today’s Gospel, Jesus says he came not to abolish but to fulfill.

The Law of Moses – the Torah – had 613 individual laws, regulating everything from what you could eat, who you could marry and how you should live. The Torah is rich and beautiful – the Torah is the inspired word of God. 

Let me read just a few of the 613 laws by their number in the Torah. You can see how Jesus fulfilled the Law:

7.            Love God;
10.          Imitate God’s good and upright ways;
11.          Honor the old and the wise;
22.          Pray to God:
27.          Do not stand by idly when a human life is in danger;
37.          Relieve a neighbor of his burden;

170.        Do no wrong in buying and selling;

175.        Do not demand from a poor man repayment of his debt, when the creditor knows
that he cannot repay;

533.        Confess before God the Lord any sin that one has committed.

As the Son of God, Jesus not only fulfilled the Law of Moses, he also simplified the Law. 

When asked about the greatest Commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest Commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two Commandments.

From 613 specific laws in the Torah, we go to the two Great Commandments of Jesus. 

What is Jesus doing in today’s Gospel? He is calling on us to separate ourselves from sin – to put sin behind us – but more than that!

Jesus is telling us to move beyond the minimal – to move beyond just avoiding doing wrong. He tells us that we must remove even the inclination to do wrong. For example, if someone is angry with his brother, they should come to the altar only after they have reconciled with their brother. 

This is a radical fulfillment and a completion of the Law of Moses. 

Jesus is calling us to move beyond the minimal of avoiding doing wrong to become positive instruments of peace, love and compassion. 

We should not think this call from Jesus is just a fair-weather suggestion to be a do-gooder. Jesus’ call demands a change of heart – it demands that we put God and neighbor at the core of who we are – in the very place from which our thoughts and actions arise.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus talks about Judgement Day, he says that He will separate the blessed on the right from the cursed on the left. To the blessed he will say:

“Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you. … For I was hungry , and you gave me food, I was thirsty and gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

And then the righteous will say, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?’

And Jesus will say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Now, Jesus did not say feed the hungry, cloth the naked, welcome the stranger only if it is convenient for you. Jesus did not say welcome the stranger only if he or she is the same ethnic or religious background that you are.

No, Jesus said welcome those in need as if we were welcoming him, welcoming Jesus himself.

As Christians, our faith requires us to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked and to welcome the stranger – just like the Good Samaritan helped the victim who had been beaten and left for dead on the road to Jerico.

Our faith requires us to serve those in need because in serving those in need, we serve and love Jesus himself. I think an argument can be made that we can only love Jesus if we love our neighbor.

Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells us how great our reward will be IF we love Jesus:

“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard …

What God has prepared for those who love Him.”

In that moment – some day in the future – when we meet our Lord, hopefully, our eyes will see the Glory and our ears will hear those wonderful words: “Welcome my good and faithful servant. When you fed the hungry, when you clothed the naked and welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me.” Amen