Oct 24, 2014

30th Sunday: Two great Commandments

Love the Lord your God . . . Love your neighbor
Ex 22: 20-26
I Thes 1: 5c-10
Mt 22: 34-40
In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus cuts right to the core and foundation of our Christian lives:
"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

So it is all about love but what is love?  What is Jesus referring to when he says that we must love God and love our neighbor?  As the Gospels continue we know that Jesus’ unique twist here is his explanation of who your neighbor is:  the stranger, your enemies, the injured man along the road, the woman caught in adultery, the lepers, lame, and blind, the Samaritan woman at the well, the children, the Syro-Phonecian woman, the Canaanites, and of course your family and friends. So, pretty much everyone. 

But love takes time to develop if you explain love as a personal relationship.  Does this mean that to love my neighbor means I have to take time to develop a personal relationship with them? We have our close family and friends and then we have people who come into and out of our lives.  We priests know that better than many. 

This concept of love of neighbor is often more difficult than to love God because we see our neighbor every day. Yet, Jesus puts both relationships on an equal level so what must he be getting at? I would not think of hating God.  We want to stay on his good side don’t we so to say I love God is rather an easy thing.  But that neighbor is another matter.

Think of how we throw this word “love” around, though. There is no English word more applied to people, objects, food, sports, and stuff than love.  I love my car, I love my dog, I love to play soccer, I love Italian food, I love the weather today, I love to travel, I love this movie or this book, and O yes, I love you too. So what is love when applied to so many different things and people? Can I love my car in the same way that I love my friends?  Can I love Italian food in the same way that I love this particular book? There must be a qualitative difference when Jesus uses the word love for God and neighbor.  Our modern use of the word love is not helpful, frankly, to what Jesus implies.

Might it involve a relationship that reflects the God's love for me? To love God with our whole heart, soul and mind means an investment of myself, my entire self in that relationship.  That I will be so attached to God that my life is formed and guided by the truth that he has revealed in his Son.  I will act and think and live according to what God has revealed.  That’s no small order when we deal with our flawed human nature but it is certainly the ultimate purpose of our life.

Our first reading from Exodus 22 lays out measurable behaviors that indicate how love is expressed: “Thus says the LORD: You shall not molest or oppress an alien . . . You shall not wrong any widow or orphan . . .  If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.  If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset . . .  If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate." Such actions of just behavior towards our neighbor are acts of love.

To love my neighbor as God loves me is beyond personal affection especially to those who have wronged me. It doesn’t require warm and fuzzy feelings for another but is expressed through action first.  Love is not a feeling or an emotion, Jesus implies, but rather a reflection of the covenantal love God has shown towards us.  It is a commitment to do good and to inflict no harm to another. 

To wish no harm, to seek no retribution, to treat another with respect regardless of how I feel about their politics, to not gossip about another’s flaws, to help when another is in need whether I know them or not, to seek peace rather than cause division, to reconcile rather than to stay angry at another for the next 20 years, to include rather than to exclude. This is love. More of you and less of me is a perhaps a good summary.

But in the end when I do good I feel good.  True but our motivation for such “good” I think needs to be deeper.  For us Christians my kindness, forgiveness, charity,  compassion, patience, respect takes on its fullest effect when I behave such because in doing so I imitate the Lord Jesus himself and the generous love God extends to me.

Love of neighbor then is expressed in human relationships and reflects God’s love for us extended to our neighbor.  This love, expressed through my actions and words, has nothing to do with how I feel about my car, food, or sports.  So, we may need to change the word “love” to “like” for such things. It’s clear that Jesus’ teaching is not meant for our modern use of the word love. So we must describe his commandment more through measurable actions to understand its implication.

Is this an easy thing?  Not exactly but Jesus’ self-sacrificial love ultimately expressed on the Cross is the highest form of love ever exercised.  He did not just speak of love he showed us what it means. A high standard indeed but a lifelong commitment to making it possible in our lives is our call. These two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor are the summation of all God's laws for us.  It isn't rocket science.  Anyone can live in the way Jesus shows us. It is both simple and complex since the love I extend may indeed not be returned by another - yet it is seen by God and honored all the more.   

Every Eucharistic celebration is a remembrance of Jesus' purest form of divine/human love and I am invited to be formed by the Eucharist; by Christ himself.  

So, how do you love?