Ex 22:20-26; I Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
In Birmingham, Alabama, a woman was walking down the main street. She was shopping for Christmas presents when she saw a small boy about seven years old. He was poorly clothed, barefooted, and standing over a heater vent in the sidewalk trying to keep warm. He had a bundle of newspapers under his arm and was trying to sell them to the pedestrians. The woman went up to him and said, “Son, where are your shoes and socks?” “Lady,” he said, “I ain’t got none.” She took him to a department store up the street and bought him a thick pair of socks and a heavy pair of shoes. The young lad skipped happily out of the store without so much as a thank you, when suddenly he returned to ask, “Lady, are you God?” “No, son,” she said, “I’m not God. But I am one of his children.” The little fellow turned to leave, saying, “Well, I knew you must be some kin to him.” It is true that love for people is a mark of our relationship with God.
In the gospel today the Pharisee asked Jesus, “teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He had good reasons to put this question. Moses or rather, God through Moses, had given the 10 commandments to the people of Israel. But by the time Jesus came into the world, the religious leaders of the Jews had brought the number to 613. By doing so, the Rabbis made it impossible for the common man to observe. The Pharisee by asking this question is really challenging Christ to give an interpretation of the entire history and reality of the Israelite nation.
Jesus had been asked to name one commandment, but then he listed two. In listing two commandments, Jesus was pointing out that you cannot separate loving God from loving one’s neighbor. God is our Creator and Savior; his love is both universal and personal. He loves every single human being so much that he gave his life on the cross to pay the price for each person’s sin, to open the gates of heaven to every single person who is willing to follow him.
And so, if someone truly loves God with all their heart, it would be a contradiction not to treat one’s neighbors – those very people whom God loves and suffered to save – with sincere and self-sacrificing respect.
So love is the definition of Christian living. We need to love God: Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord’s will in all things and make it paramount in our lives. 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, and accept His invitation to join Him in the Mass and other liturgical functions when we can.
We need to love our neighbor: 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 have to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone without discrimination based on color, race, gender, age wealth or social status. Forgiveness too is vital. We love others by not holding a grudge against a wrong done to us.
When Mother Teresa accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1979, part of her acceptance speech went like this: “It is not enough for us to say: ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.’ Saint John says that you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbor. (1 John 4:20) How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live?