Ex 22:20-26; I Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. The next week the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5.00 am for an early morning business flight to Chicago. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he finally wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5.00 am.”
The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9.00am, and that he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t woken him when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed … it said… “It is 5.00am; wake up.”
Our first reading and gospel presents us with a very challenging topic: love. When we hear that word, we automatically think of romance, joy, and warm feelings. Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s a matter of dedication, loyalty and commitment. Those who have matured in learning about love know that sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard work.
In the gospel today the Pharisee asked Jesus, “teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus pulls a fast one in today’s Gospel. Jesus answers the lawyer but instead of choosing one commandment he chooses two. And if we look carefully at his response we can find in one of the commandments a third commandment. Instead of coming up with one commandment that is the greatest, Jesus offers three. First, we are to love God with all of our strength. Second, we are to love our neighbor. But we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So the third commandment is that we love ourselves.
If you were to ask Jesus, then, what is the great commandment, he would offer this triple commandment of love: love of God, love of self, love of neighbor. He would suggest that this is God’s greatest revelation of how we should act. It is that upon which everything else hangs—both the law and all the prophets. So since this is so important and central a revelation, we should spend a little time reflecting upon it. We can do so by asking ourselves why does Jesus choose three commandments and what are their relationships to each other?
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 can also 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.
We are so often unable to love our neighbor because we do not have a genuine love of self. Only those who genuinely love themselves are able to love others. Those who consider themselves unworthy and unlovable have no love to give. Those whose dominant attitude is one of failure or anger can only strike out to others in jealousy, hatred, or perhaps even violence. In order to genuinely follow the second and third commandment we must follow the first. We must love ourselves so that we are able to extend love to others. But then how do we establish an adequate love of self and others? Only by turning our focus on God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ.
We cannot pick and choose any one of these commandments, all the three go hand in hand. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor: this is God’s greatest revelation of how we should act.