25 October 2020
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Some people are very good for Church attendance and religious practices. But at home or at work they can be intolerant, tyrannical etc. A story is told of such a man: daily Mass and prayers, goes on pilgrimages etc. But he was a tyrant to his family and employees; intolerant of anyone who did not do what he wanted. His employees lived in fear of him. He certainly claims to love God. Yet this man fails to respond to what Jesus asks in today’s gospel. His response only partly fulfils 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 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 neighbour (his family and employees).
On the other hand, a young woman, raised as a Catholic decides that she is no longer going to Church since she believes that in loving and serving her 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.
Both have got it wrong, or [more correctly] neither have it completely right. Both have one aspect of the two in their lives.
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. 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 neighbours 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.
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, thank you for loving us. By the grace of the Holy Spirit may we love God and our neighbour as you taught us to. Amen.”
Taken from a Homily of the late Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA
Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA