Memory of the Poor

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Memorial of Saint Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John, bishop and martyr (†155).

Reading of the Word of God

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Leviticus 19, 1-2.11-18

Yahweh spoke to Moses and said:

'Speak to the whole community of Israelites and say: "Be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

"You will not steal, nor deal deceitfully or fraudulently with your fellow-citizen.

You will not swear by my name with intent to deceive and thus profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.

You will not exploit or rob your fellow. You will not keep back the labourer's wage until next morning.

You will not curse the dumb or put an obstacle in the way of the blind, but will fear your God. I am Yahweh.

"You will not be unjust in administering justice. You will neither be partial to the poor nor overawed by the great, but will administer justice to your fellow-citizen justly.

You will not go about slandering your own family, nor will you put your neighbour's life in jeopardy. I am Yahweh.

You will not harbour hatred for your brother. You will reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.

You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh.


Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

This passage of Leviticus is bookended by two commands that cap a sort of Decalogue reported by the holy author: “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” God and neighbour are also here connected to the Word of God, but in a different way from the commandment to love God and others. Holiness is the very condition of God. That is, he is separate from us, transcendent, but not enclosed inside his own existence. God asks us to participate in his very life. And so the invitation, “Be holy,” seems to say: do not be afraid to take part in my very way of being, in my perfection. Love for our neighbour fulfils the invitation to holiness; it makes it possible for everyone to participate in the divine life and its condition. Within these two invitations a series of commandments is enclosed which concretely trace the way to become holy. Some of these are similar to the ten commandments of Exodus 20, like verse 11 which repeats the seventh and eighth commandment: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.” The latter is repeated even in verses 15 and 16, where it talks about injustice in court and slander. The commandments involve, above all, the neighbour who is in need: do not oppress your neighbour nor take their goods, pay the worker, do not curse the deaf, do not hinder the blind, judge with justice in court, do not slander and do not contribute to the death of another person (this refers, perhaps, to the possibility of condemning someone with false testimony, as happened for example to Naboth in 1 Kings 21), do not harbour hate, do not reprimand openly your neighbour, do not take revenge, do not harbour rancour. As we can understand, these commands are truly very modern, despite the language with which they were written that is marked by the judicial practices of the time. They help us to reflect on those concrete behaviours that prevent us from following the way of holiness to love our neighbour as ourselves. The Lord does not ask an impossible measure. In any case, if we think of how much we love ourselves, we can imagine how different our lives would be if we would live the same amount of love for our neighbour.