Oct. 28, 2017

Thirtieth Sunday, 2017

THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE

Readings:1st- Ex. 22:20-26; 2nd- 1 Thess. 1:5-10; Gospel- Matt. 22:34-40 

Love of neighbor- brother, sister, husband, wife, colleague, etc, is the visible sign of the expression of our love for God. Saint John says, “Anyone who says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since whoever does not love the brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 3:20). And Paul stresses this point in his letter to the Romans, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for to love the other person is to fulfill the law” (Rom. 13:8). The Jews placed so much emphasis on the law. That’s why the Lawyer approached Jesus with the question in the gospel, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”. Record has it that the Jews had about six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Law, and so this young man was perhaps looking to see if Jesus would negate any of them or acknowledge some better than others. That way they could fault him. Like last Sunday on payment of taxes, the Pharisees ended up being disappointed and even committing themselves to the real demands of love.

From the Old Testament book in Deuteronomy, the Jews had great emphasis on the Shema which says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). The Mosaic Law in the book of Leviticus also says, “You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). So, if they knew all these laws, why then did the young man still ask Jesus about which is the greatest of the commandments? The answer Jesus gave to him was surprising because it still took him to what he knew but summarized the point that was really important thus, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matt.22:40). The two commandments are the Commandments of Love. 

Love is a very simple word which carries with it great commitments. Ordinarily, we use the word love almost carelessly in our daily lives. We usually say, “I love you”, countless times in a day. Yet the world records hatred in high capacity. Ironically, the English language has one word for love. We say, “I love my dog”, “I love my cat”. “I love food”. “I love soccer” “I love cookies”. “I love peanuts”. “I love traveling”. “I love music”. “I love traveling”.  “I love party”, etc. These are different things we can love. But the categorization of these various things which we love can only come from our attitude towards them. Love is a great emotion. Yes, we love food, fish, meat. We love drink, maybe wine or soda, too, yet we consume them by either eating or drinking. But we don’t love them the same way as we love human beings, say, our son, daughter, parents, etc. We can’t eat our son or daughter as we eat food, but we love each of them in their category. Rather, we preserve the persons in our lives that we love. That is why the Greek word uses different expressions for the word “Love” to make us understand the various ways we could appreciate the different things we love, or the ways to express our love in the various senses that we may desire- “Agape (unconditional, consuming passion for the well-being of others), Phileo (compassionable love, fondness, affection or liking), Storge (natural affection or obligation- close to Philos) and Eros (erotic love or love of passion).

The love of God is supreme. Christ says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your soul, strength, mind and heart”. God is love, so we have to love him. He is the reason for love. We have to worship him, adore him and honor him. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He deserves the highest form of love. We must also love our fellow human beings created in the image of God who is Love. The commandments command us not to kill, not to tell lies, not to covet, not steal. To not do those negative things to others means to show them love. Obviously, it is easier to claim to love our fellow human beings but to say we love them as ourselves would be a tough one.

And to love our neighbor as ourselves is another tough one. Remember the question posited to Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” For us, the neighbor is the one who responds to our gestures of friendship and affection. The neighbor can also be the one on the same social and economic strata with us. Our human love often becomes lopsided and negatively categorized. The first reading calls our attention to that, to the persons who need love from us but rarely find it. They are the poor and the needy in the society. These have few or no neighbors.

In the first reading, God warns against exploiting the weak and the poor. He commands us to treat such people with love. Think about the stranger who lacks assistance. Think of the widow who lacks marital comfort. Think of the orphans who are exposed to hardship for lack of parental care. They all need to be loved. It is always easier to associate with the rich and the big than to recognize and cherish the poor. Christ says today, “You must love your neighbor as yourself”. That is why we need to appreciate what the Saint Vincent de Paul in the parish does. They take the very difficult calls and cases. They go after people who are ejected and have no hope. They go to the homes of those who have no relationships with them at all, and provide what they need. That is the depth of love.

Love is a debt we all owe. It is love of God and neighbor that Christ commands, not love or God only. It seems quite easier to say we love God. We go to church. We pray at Mass. We are spiritual and do things for the church. But we are always unwilling to show deep love for those in need.

Let’s just do simple things for others. Give smile and laughter to those around you. Give joy and peace. Give hope. That’s love. Think of how many people you encounter each week. Think of how better or worse you leave them at the end of your encounter. Think of those you speak to on the phone. Think of your physical contacts at work. Think of those you encounter as you drive. Think of those you meet at the places you shop. Those are your neighbors.

Then think of your marriage. One of my friends told me a funny and nasty story of a man who was married and kept fighting with his wife. At some point, both of them couldn’t take the pressure anymore. They decided to divorce. A few years after, the woman died but this guy couldn’t attend her funeral. He and his friends were playing gulf when he sighted the horse and the long motorcade in a funeral procession. He quickly asked his friends to stop and pay some respect for the dead while the procession passed by. One of the fellow players was shocked and queried why the game should stop for a funeral procession. The man called them and said, “The person that is being taken to the cemetery for burial is my wife”. Every member of the gulf team was surprised.

My friends, we better show love to people when they are alive. It doesn’t matter if we stopped the gulf game or any other thing for the dead if we didn’t respect the person when she was alive. Christ wants us to balance our love- Love God and love your neighbor.

May the love of God lead us to love others as we love ourselves.