Sunday of week 30 of Ordinary Time
Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-30
“LOVE - AND DO WHAT YOU LIKE” is a statement attributed to the great St Augustine. He did not say simply, “Do what you like” but “LOVE, and do what you like.” The word ‘love’ changes the meaning of the statement completely. We have a similar theme in today’s Gospel. It touches on the very heart of the Christian message and indeed of all human living.
Some Catholics, especially many young, argue, "I come to church to worship God. Spare me the message on the poor. I get that on the TV all week." This is telephone booth theology: just me and God and nobody else. Here they obey the first great commandment and forget the second.
Other Catholics operate on social worker principles. They put out for the poor not because it pleases God but because it pleases them. Very often they don’t love neighbor but themselves. Jesus is squeezed out of the package. They obey the second great commandment and disregard the first. Such people are humanists but not Christians.
But there are also others who argue: Jesus teaches about love and don’t tell me anything about moral obligations and commandments. Don’t challenge me with the difficult questions and don’t touch my private life. They obey their own vision of God and they create their own understanding of love. They neither worship true God nor love their neighbor.
And who said: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14,21).
And John in his first letter adds: “Whoever says, "I know and I love him, but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2,4).
Some others say:
- “I love God, and God loves me”. It’s true that I am greedy, egoistic, impolite, and merciless but God’s love is infinite and He will certainly forgive me”.
- “It’s true that I neglect His commandments and I am not a churchgoer but He requires only to love Him, not to go to the church, so don’t upset me with Sunday Masses on a regular basis”.
- It’s true that I am living already for 20 years in non-sacramental marriage but I love my wife (or my husband) so don’t upset me with something what is not in the Gospel. God loves me and He will certainly save me, because I love my spouse.
Is it not a misunderstanding of the Gospel message? Is it not a total failure in understanding Christ’s teaching? Are we not turning the Gospel message upside-down trying to adjust it to our lousy life?
Is it not true:
- that the love of God without love of the neighbor is a kind of very grave and serious hypocrisy? You can not love God whom you don’t see if you don’t truly love neighbor who is near to you.
- but it is also true that the so called love of the neighbor (sentimental and romantic) without being rooted in the love of God is a kind of idolatry and self-deception.
It is true and certain that the central point of the Good News is the message of love, but we do forget very often that Jesus was crucified not for preaching love of God and neighbor but for preaching the very difficult and sometimes uncomfortable truth - HOW THIS LOVE SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD. And this truth is very challenging and sometimes very upsetting, because I won’t like to accept it, and so I modify the understanding of God’s love to fit my convictions and my idea of comfortable Christianity.
We should not forget that Jesus’ understanding of love is very different from our understanding. God loves us and he requires the same from us, but this love is not emotional, not sentimental, not silly or romantic. Jesus is not a “Hollywood sappy lover” who dies in a melodramatic way. He is the God, He Himself is the LOVE, but at the same time He said “I am the Truth, I am the Way, and I am the Life. Who would like to come to my Father has to come through me.”
The word, love, has become devalued - like a currency that once bought a steak dinner, but now can barely purchase a donut. Much of modern Christian life seems like a bad version of a Hollywood cheap, romantic story rather than the morning of Resurrection. We need to revalue the meaning of love.
Emotions of course are important - and we should do all we can to have positive feelings toward family members, co-workers and fellow parishioners. But love itself is not a feeling. Love is a decision. Sometimes it is a very difficult and very challenging decision. And I should add that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, because none of us on our own is capable the love Christ requires of us.
Can I say that parents who decide to punish their child to prevent him or her from biggest troubles don’t love the child? Even if the child is sometimes very upset …
Can I say that mother stressing some obligations and duties in the formation of her child does not love him? Love is also shown by caring enough to discipline the child. Preventing the child from hurting himself or someone else.
Can I say that only the sentimental and non upsetting emotions are good?
The commandment of love of God and neighbor are not original to Jesus and there is nothing new about their being placed together; what is new is that Jesus presents them as dependent on each other or even interdependent. According to Jesus they are inseparable one from the other.
Also new to him is that he widens the definition of neighbor to include everyone and stress the proper and not sentimental understanding of love. You cannot pretend that you love God if you don’t keep His commandments.