LOVE IS THE GREATEST COMMAND
The central theme of today’s readings is the greatest Commandment in the Bible, namely to love God and express it in action by loving Him in our neighbour. We are to love God and express it by loving our neighbor because God lives in him or her.
This week’s Gospel follows close behind the Gospel read last Sunday. It is the last of three questions put to Jesus by Jewish religious leaders who are trying to trick him into saying something that might get him arrested. This reminds us that the context for today’s reading is the mounting tension between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
The Herodians and the Pharisees asked the first question, which was about taxes. The Sadducees asked the second question, which was about the Resurrection (see Matthew 22:22-33). The third question, considered in today’s Gospel, is asked by a Pharisee who asks Jesus about the greatest of the commandments, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
The question requires Jesus to interpret the Law of Moses. The Mosaic Law consists of the Ten Commandments and many additional rules, numbering over six hundred. Adherence to the Mosaic Law, for a devout Jew, is an expression of faithfulness to God’s covenant with Israel. The ranking of the Commandments was regularly debated among the teachers of the Law.
Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question with a two-fold summary. Jesus says that all of the commandments can be summarized in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…” And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Both of these were central elements of the religious tradition Jesus learned from his Jewish community. Love of God finds its expression in our love for our neighbour.
While the Scribes were down on the ground, looking at the overabundance of laws from which to choose, our Lord was soaring high above, emphasizing the vertical and horizontal relationships that superseded them all. The love relationships we express with God and each other are both the measure of our faith as well as the means.
Our Lord, in responding to the Scribe, particularly underscored the fact that our relationship with God is based firstly on love not legalism. For all intents and purposes, he was saying, that if you truly love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, you then could do what you want. How am I with regard to loving God? In the typical examination of conscience, this would focus especially on the first three commandments.
Since we would normally be using this for confession, we would frame our questions in the negative; where I have failed to love Him. We could look at such things as denying him before others, taking his name in vain, failing to pray, missing Mass, etc. While the Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us absolution, we can't stop there. Our heart's cry must be to proactively seek for the grace of the Holy Spirit, working in us, to bring us to the place where we truly love Him more.
St. Paul, in describing certain actions he was taking with regard to the Church in Corinth, said, "The love of Christ compels us..." The love relationship that we have with God becomes a compelling interior force that brings about behaviors in accord with the law of God!
Jesus would later explain to his disciples that this comes from "abiding." He shared this profound truth while walking with them from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. His words were captured by St. John in the fifteenth chapter of his gospel. "Abide in Me, and I in you," Jesus said. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (15:4,5)
The love, then, that we are talking about is the sap that runs from the vine trunk of Jesus to us, his branches. More than simply abstaining from wrongful actions, we proactively live in a love relationship with him. Abiding comes in many ways: through prayer, the reading of Holy Scripture, meditating on his truth, spending time in adoration, etc. There is one part of abiding, however, that our Lord specifically references - the Eucharist. In John 6:56 he tells his disciples, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him."
There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. We must keep God's commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. We also need to read and meditate on His word in the Bible.
The horizontal relationship with our fellow man is also a part of God's great commandment. We cannot love God without loving each other. In his pastoral epistle, St. John makes this vividly clear when he writes that, "He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in light [there is that word "abide again!] and in it there is no cause for stumbling." (I Jn. 2:9, 10)
The fruitfulness of our love relationship with God is critically linked to the way we relate to those around! If we continue to use the image of the vine when talking on the "neighbour level," we begin dealing with the area of fruit - how our lives "taste" to others.
Jesus told his disciples that an abiding relationship would yield fruit in our lives. When we think of a grapes, apples, pears, etc., fruit is the outward expression of the inward essence of the plant or tree. So what does this fruit look like? As spiritual beings, our fruit is described by St. Paul in Galatians: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
You'll know you are making progress in your spiritual life by the way you relate with other people. In other words it's all about fruit. Luke's section on the Sermon on the Mount reads, “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:43-45)”
God’s will is that we should love everyone, seeing Him in our neighbor. Since every human being is the child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, we are actually giving expression to our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him or her. This means we need to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone
Well, the bottom line regarding our commitment to Christ is this - truly and earnestly love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength then do whatever you want! God is interested in authentic expressions of love not imitation fruit. No matter how hard you bite down on an artificial grape, it will never be tasty. The same can be said for our love for neighbour.
Love them anyway: In Calcutta, India, there is a children’s home named Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), founded by Mother Teresa. The home continues to be operated by her community, the Missionaries of Charity. On the wall of the home hangs a sign which reads:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY
Prayer – Lord God teach us to love You as we ought and to genuine bear the fruits of that love by authentically loving our neighbour. Amen!!!