My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Peace be with you.
In 2008, Clint Eastwood produced a movie called Gran Torino, in which he played Walt Kowalski, a man struggling to deal with certain changes in his life. The biggest change is that his wife has just passed away, leaving him alone for the first time in 50 years. Coupled with that, his neighborhood has changed from a blue collar, middle-class largely white part of town to an area where the majority of people are Hmong, a group of people are from Southeast Asia. Walt feels out of place and reacts to it with a great deal of anger. He’s racist, sexist, and the kind of jerk that people find hard to be around for any length of time. To put it simply, he’s hard to love.
In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses highlights three groups of people that Walt would have found hard to love. First, there’s aliens, or as we would call them “undocumented immigrants.” They speak don’t speak English and they have traditions and cultures that seem strange and sometimes offensive to us. One example of this has to do with rosaries. I get asked if it’s okay to wear a rosary around your neck and I have to honestly say that it depends on where you’re from. People from Europe generally believe it’s disrespectful to wear a rosary like a piece of jewelry and say it should be in your hand instead. People from Mexico and other Latin American countries say that the rosary should be kept close to the heart and believe it’s perfectly acceptable to wear around your neck. It’s just different traditions, neither of which is wrong.
Next, Moses talks about widows and orphans, or “single parent families” as we may call them today. Walt would say that they get trapped in a cycle of dependence by the federal government and that they job the system as a result. This week, a friend of mine wrote on Facebook that he followed a woman through the check out line at Target. He saw that she was buying diapers and formula using the government issued debit card for the poor. He felt bad for her and almost offered to buy her groceries when her phone went off and it looked suspiciously like an iphone 6, the most recent version. And, when he got out to the parking lot, he saw her loading her groceries into the back of what looked like a new SUV.
Lastly, Moses talks about the poor in general. Walt would say that the poor are a bunch of lazy ne’er-do-wells who take advantage of people’s charity and that they should get a job.
Now, let’s be honest. We’ve probably all had thoughts similar to Walt’s before. Sometimes it’s not easy to love people. Yet, in our gospel today, Jesus tells us to do just that. He summarizes the entire Old Testament into the two most important commandments: Love God and love neighbor. Though it seems to be two separate statements, it seems clear in the context of the question and in Jesus’ response that the two are intimately connected. Obviously, the key word is love. As Christians, we are supposed to allow the love of God to form and shape who we are. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to love others and sometimes it just seems impossible to love them. After all, what do we get out of loving someone if they aren’t going to love us back?
This is where I turn to the second reading where St. Paul talks about how impressed he is that the Thessalonians are imitators of him who is himself an imitator of Christ. They saw St. Paul living the Christian life and that, likewise, inspired them to live a Christian life. In fact, they were so inspired that people from “Macedonia and in Achaia…(and)…every place (their) faith in God has gone forth” is now imitating them. That’s how love works. That’s what Walt figured out by the end of Gran Torino. He could be a person of hate chasing everyone off his front lawn or he could be a person who stands up for the alien and the poor and the widow in love. The more love that we exhibit through the actions of our lives, the more people will want to live it in theirs. Yet, hate works the same way: the more we hate the more people will hate others. The question we, therefore, have to ask ourselves is in what ways can we spread the love of God to this world so that others will see it and spread the love of God to others?