Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 23, 2005
Ex 22:20-26; 1Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
1) In responding to the question of the lawyer in today’s Gospel — “what is the greatest of all the commandments?” — Jesus tells us the single most important thing we need to do in our lives. If we do everything else but don’t do this, we will not have lived life well, and we would not have passed the test of life. We’ve heard Jesus’ response so many times that we can think that the question was a soft-ball, but it was really a 100 mph slider. There were 613 commands in the Old Testament. To choose which of them was the greatest was something that the scholars of the law had found difficult for centuries. Jesus’ answer came from what God had inspired Moses to teach the Jewish people after he had rescued them from Pharaoh. From that point forward, faithful Jews have recited it every day: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Then God through Moses gave them instructions to keep hammering this reality home every day: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:4-9). Even though they recited this when they awoke and went to bed, even though they did make a phylactery to hand it down from their hair so that it would be an emblem on their forehead, even though the put it on a scroll and installed it next to their front door, the Jews still hadn’t realized its supremacy, in other words, WHY God had them do all of these things. It was precisely because loving God with all we are and have is simply the most important thing we need to do in life. Jesus reminded his listeners of this in his response to the question.
2) But then Jesus added something else, unsolicited. He knew that if he stopped merely with the love of God, many people would think that they were doing just fine. He wanted to give a clear means by which they could evaluate whether we are doing so. He said that there is a second commandment, taken from the Book of Leviticus, that is similar to the greatest: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 ). One clear index of how we love God is how we love our neighbor made in his image. Jesus during the Last Supper would set himself up as a model for the love of neighbor. No longer would our love for ourselves be the standard for the love of our neighbor, but HIS love for us would be the standard: “love one another as I have loved you!” (Jn 13:34; Jn 15:12). We’ll return to this a little later.
3) But the thing that so many miss about Jesus’ response is what Jesus says afterward giving us this two-fold directive of love. I have found this one sentence to be one of the most helpful and practical sentences in the whole Gospel: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, all 613 commands that God revealed in the Old Testament can be summed up in the love of God and love of neighbor. Every commandment God has given us is meant to help us to love God and others. This is so different from the way many of us often look at the commandments. We view them as restrictive, rather than liberating. Many of us can claim that we violate the commandments precisely because we love, as if the commandments stifle love. But by this sentence, Jesus, who cannot and will not deceive us, is giving us the key to understand the path he has given us to grow in love, which is by keeping the commandments, each of which teaches us how to love. That’s why Jesus during the Last Supper tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15) and later “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (Jn 15:17).
4) We can see the obvious connection between love and the commandments when we focus on the ten most famous of them.
•How could we ever claim to love God if we’re worshiping idols or misusing his name?
•How could we claim to love him if we don’t come to worship him on the day he calls his own?
•How could we ever love our parents if we dishonor them?
•How could we claim to love others if we hate or kill them?
•How could we love our spouse if we cheat on him or her?
•How could we truly love another if we use them for our sexual pleasure and risk their eternal salvation?
•How could we love someone if we’re stealing from them?
•How could we love someone if we’re lying about them or lying to them?
•How could we really love someone if we’re envious rather than happy about the good things they have in their lives?
5) The law of God is a law of love. Every violation of his commandments is a violation of love. Therefore, whenever God tells us “Thou shalt not…,” the prohibition is to help us to preserve love. It is like a signpost keeping us on the pathway of true love and away from the dead ends that, however enticing, just end up getting us lost and possibly killed. God out of love for us gave us each commandment..
6) Up until now, we have focused on the connection between the commandments and love. But in order to fulfill the two-fold commandment Jesus gives us and love God and neighbor aright, we need to understand what the love he is calling us to is. There is so much confusion about love today. Most people think it is a feeling of deep and abiding affection for someone. But while that is often a part of love, its essence lies elsewhere. The great philosophers have called love “willing the good of another.” In other words, love is a choice to put someone else ahead of you, to seek the other person’s good above your own. Jesus validated this assessment both by his teaching on Holy Thursday as well as his actions on Good Friday, in telling us what true love really is: “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Love is the choice to be willing to sacrifice oneself, even to die, for another.
7) With that in mind, each of us has to ask whether we love God and others in this way. How much do we sacrifice for God? Very often we can deceive ourselves into thinking we love God simply because we have affection for God. But this is the same mistake, I think, many kids make with relation to their parents. I’m convinced that most kids do not really love their parents, because they’re really not willing to sacrifice for them out of love. Their parents sacrifice so much for them, but when they ask their kids to do the dishes, or take out the trash, or accomplish some other chore, the response many kids give is “no!” They almost never go out of their way to do something for parents without being asked. They’ll always tell their parents they love them, but to a large degree I think that they love being loved by the parents, they love having someone they can depend on when they need it, they couldn’t fathom what they would do without them, but none of these is what love really is. The real test is how much one is willing to do to put the other first, and kids can be very self-centered. The same thing happens in our relationship with God. We love being loved by him, we have affection for him, we’re dependent on his help when we need him, but many of us, like with our kids, don’t really sacrifice for him. A quick test would be whether we would give our lives out of love for him if they were required from us today. But we can also get specific in other areas: We’re called to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and so we can ask:
•How much of our mind do we give to God in prayer and in getting to know his teachings better?
•How much of our heart is dedicated to him? What percentage of our desires concern His desires?
•How much have we invited God to come to abide in us as in a temple? Have we evicted him through serious sin.
•How much of our strength and effort is dedicated to his cause of the salvation of sinners?
•How much of our time do we sacrifice for him in prayer?
•To what extent have we used the talents he has given us to build up his kingdom?
•How much of the money we have do we give back to God? Someone may respond that “God is rich and doesn’t need my money,” but it’s obvious that the Church where Jesus feeds you with himself here is not rich and could use all that you can give. Does God get your first fruits or leftovers? Would he say you’re really sacrificing to put in as much as you give each week, or would it simply be what you’d give as a tip to a teenager?
To love God with everything we have and are shows itself in all of these ways and more.
8 ) The same type of self-sacrificial actions would be evident if we truly love our neighbor. When was the last time we went out of our way to help a stranger? Do we sacrifice to help out those in need, like those who come to our parish food pantry, or do we not really want to be bothered by others’ difficulties? To love a neighbor means to give of ourselves to make the neighbor better, happier, holier. It means ultimately to be willing to die to ourselves so that a neighbor might live, as Jesus proved when he gave his life for ours. Do we aspire to this or do we think this type of love is “crazy” or “too much”?
9) This two-fold commandment of love finds its highest expression in the Eucharist. Today in Rome, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass to conclude the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. This week we draw to a close the Year of the Eucharist which Pope John Paul II inaugurated twelve months ago. Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict alike have prayed that this Eucharistic year might lead each of us to a Eucharistic lifetime. If we live truly Eucharistic lives, then we will be keeping the two-fold commandment of love Jesus enjoins on us anew today. Since the Eucharist is Jesus, the God-man, if we really love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, then we will love Jesus in the Eucharist with all we have and are. We would therefore try to come to adore him in Eucharistic adoration and prayer as much as we would spend time with anyone we love. We would naturally want to receive him every day we can. Our love for Christ in the Eucharist is a sure sign of our love for God in general. Likewise the Eucharist is the test for how much we love our neighbor. When Jesus through the priest at Mass says the words, “Do this in memory of me!,” the “this” is not just the celebration of the rite of the New Passover, which is the Mass; it’s also his call to break our bodies, to shed our sweat and blood, out of love for others. If we live a Eucharistic life, we will say by our body language, “this is my body given for you!” “This is my blood shed for you!” We could have no greater love for our neighbor than to give of ourselves out of love for them in life and in death. All the law and the prophets hang on this two-fold commandment of love, and therefore the Eucharist, which helps us to put both into practice, is the synthesis of everything Jesus has ever taught. May the Lord Jesus, whom we’re about to receive in Holy Communion, help us to live Eucharistic lives so that we may indeed put into action “the greatest commandment” and come to the happiness and love to which this life of love leads.