29 October 2017
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
There is a certain man who goes to daily mass and communion. Sad to say this man is a tyrant at home to his family and treats his workers rather badly. He shouts and roars at them if they don’t do exactly as he wants and as quickly as he expects. He will certainly claim to love God. After all he goes to mass daily, is faithful to his prayers and even goes on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Yet this man is failing to respond to what Jesus asks in today’s gospel. His response only partly fulfills Jesus’ conditions for pleasing God.
Jesus tells us quite clearly that there are two great commandments. The first being to love God totally with all our being. The second resembles or is like it: to love our neighbour as ourselves. Both are necessary according to Jesus. The man in the story felt he loved God with his whole heart even though he neglected to love his neighbor (his family). On the other hand a certain young woman brought up as a Catholic recently scandalised her parents by saying that she was going to Church no longer since she believed that in loving and serving the neighbour she is automatically loving God. Prayers and Mass, celebrating the sacraments, vital expressions of our love of God now have little importance for her.
It seems then that some people emphasize the love of God in such a way that makes the relationship with one’s neighbour secondary. Others prefer to give great importance to serving the neighbour without feeling the need to have a personal relationship with God. Interestingly Jesus does not give us a choice. He says that loving God is the first and greatest commandment. It is from that relationship with God that the second gets its meaning and importance. The two loves are not meant to be conflicting. It is not a question of either one or the other but ‘both and’.
The danger here is that we may think we know better than Jesus. He states very clearly that the two loves are equally important. Is there not a danger that we might be arrogant in thinking we know better than Jesus when we choose one or the other but not both? The reason Jesus emphasizes our need to love God and so be rooted in His Love is that prayer, the Mass etc. are the vital means of enabling us to love the neighbour. In Christianity we cannot be Do It Yourself people, i.e DIYs. We need God’s enabling power, that is, the Holy Spirit. We need to be nourished at the Eucharist and by the Word of God in order to have the capacity, the ability to love our neighbour. Basically, our neighbour according to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is anyone who is in need. This demands a concrete response.
So Christianity is a very concrete and practical religion. It might be easy enough to love God but the simple test of whether we do or not is how do we love, relate to our brothers and sisters. With our blood relatives it might be reasonably easy but what of the widow, orphan and poor person spoken of in the first reading from the Book of Exodus? This Book tells us of the need to be concretely concerned – ‘if you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge you must return it before sunset etc. The early Church Fathers said that if we have plenty of clothes especially those items we never use and do not share them with the poor we are stealing from them. Strong words indeed. So loving our neigbours as ourselves means loving them as if they are members of our own family, as if they were our own. This is far from easy. How we deal with asylum seekers is a case in point.
Years ago the famous English pop group, the Beatles had a song called ‘All you need is love’. But what did they mean by the word love. Nowadays there are many different understandings of it e.g. sentimentality, romantic love, sex without commitments and so on. The Christian definition and a good test to see how we measure up is that given by St. Paul in 1 Cor.13 ‘Love is always patient and kind, it is never boastful, jealous or conceited. It is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful’ etc. We can easily put the name of Jesus in the place of love. Could we put our own names?
The Good News is that Jesus is inviting us to prioritise what our faith, our religion is all about. God gave Moses the 10 commandments. By the time Jesus had appeared there were 613 laws and precepts governing every aspect of human behaviour, even to things like washing one’s hands as far as the elbows on returning from market. Most Jews were enslaved by all these. So Jesus gives priority to the two great loves. He is saying the same to us. If we love God and our neighbour as ourselves and what that means concretely, then that’s all God asks of us. But it is not easy. Yet God can ask this of us because he knows we have the capacity to do so. Is it by going to war against others that will solve the question of terrorism etc.? Jesus offers us the way of love. He asks us to do this wherever we live and with all we encounter.
“Lord Jesus show us and enable us how to love as the only true way to world peace. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA