Today’s readings : Exodus 22, 20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1, 5-10; Matthew 22, 34-40.

The authenticity of our religion and the truth of our faith can only be judged from the way we treat others, especially the vulnerable, strangers, immigrants and those oppressed. The ‘other’ in the biblical perspective is sacred. And there can be no true veneration or adoration of God if it does not lead to the sacrality of the human being.

St Paul, in the second reading, commends the Thessalonians for having broken with idolatry: “when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God”. God is not an object, and love of Him can only be expressed through the concrete love for others. This is what distinguishes the true religion from the fake one.

We all aspire to achieve in life what we love and desire, whatever that may be. In the midst of the myriad of desires that lure our hearts one after the other, we need wisdom to be and remain hinged on what ultimately settles our restless heart. This perhaps is one basic question to which we do well to return from time to time: what do I love, what am I seeking?

In his book On Religion, philosopher John D. Caputo refers to St Augustine’s Confessions, and remarks: “Augustine is someone overflowing with love who is seeking to know where to direct his love. He is not out to see what he can get, but out to see what he can give”. This is mostly remarkable when we speak of love.

As humans, we are all vulnerable, strangers in a strange land, and in need of redemption and love. But the more we remain focussed on our vulnerability and needs the more egocentric we become.

People who lack love and experience emptiness and loneliness seek and expect to be loved. Achieving maturity means crossing over to the other side, seeking to own the love we think is lacking in our heart’s distress and realising that it is in giving that ultimately we receive.

In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis distinguishes between the “need-love”, such as the love of a child for its mother, and the “gift-love”, epitomised by God’s love for humanity. The Augustinian saying that we shall get no peace until we rest in God means that our growth is measured precisely by this passage from the need to the gift love. This altruism puts us at rest in God’s heart and corrects our egocentricity.

We cannot afford to remain lifetime beginners in our faith, with no depth at all and always concerned with age-old questions and difficulties as those the Pharisees constantly shot at Jesus.

Their petty questions unmask the falseness of their religion. If ‘who we are’ and ‘what we do’ overflows from a loving heart, then we may rest assured that we are on the right track. But if we always caution ourselves, afraid that our gift-love can be abused, then the overflow is blocked and our heart will turn into one of stone.

Humanity has always had luminaries who showed the way forward even in the darkest or hardest of times. They were always driven by a passion for humanity, irrespective of religion or race or colour or social condition. If we were today to analyse the Exodus reading, it undoubtedly shakes our priorities in the way we perceive and live our religion. It should also shake all the mechanisms, political, industrial and economic that generate, rather than alleviate, poverty.

The cry of the suffering and the marginalised continues to be the only criterion of judgement on the authenticity of our faith and religion. Failing to abide by this criterion makes it impossible on our part to even claim to believe in God.

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