Throughout Our Lord’s life, He took every opportunity through His teaching and preaching to reveal that God is love. Jesus called on His followers to seek to emulate God’s love in their love for others. It was important that this love be freely and unreservedly given. Also that they had no favourites or preferred types of people to love.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment given by God? We can sympathise with the questioner. The Law had expanded over time and contained 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions and 248 prescriptions. Jesus answers His questioner in a simple and profound fashion: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the prophets also”.
In Luke’s account of this Gospel, the lawyer asks Jesus to qualify His answer and asks: “Who is my neighbour?” The Lord then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man robbed and left for dead on the road is a Jew. He is ignored by two fellow Jews: a priest and a Levite. The wounded man is helped by a Samaritan, a race generally looked down on by Jewish people. The teaching is that you don’t have to qualify to be someone’s neighbour. The Samaritan just saw a man who was injured, asked no questions and did all he could to help him. God’s wants real fellowship between all people irrespective of background, race or creed. For the Lord, there is a common humanity and there is no room for selection just a sense of solidarity. Love is not a thornless rose, smooth to the touch because we love those we are comfortable with. In another place, Jesus asks us to love others who do not love us in return. We all know people who make our lives difficult. What God asks is far from easy.
Jesus teaches us today that you cannot separate our love for God from our love for people. Jesus puts a close connection between the love of God we cannot see and love of our neighbour whom we can see. To love as God loves is far from easy. You meet saintly people who see no wrong in others, treat everyone with respect and concern, and give of their resources when a need arises. Others need to work a little harder to rise to the standard of such good people. In many ways, the Lord puts the ideal before us: to love as God loves. It helps to think of ourselves as St. Francis of Assisi calls us ‘channels’ in his great prayer. If we are receptive, God will pour His love into us to flow out in word and deed to those around us. A lady who had a lot of demands as a carer, wife and mother, told me she drew great strength from God’s love. She said that she asked God every morning for sufficient love for whatever would be required of her. She said that God’s love made her life less onerous and seemed to reduce the weight of the many tasks love required. I hope that God’s love will pour into our hearts in a special way as we pray for the people of the world.
I find the nature of the cross helpful. The cross is very special to Christians and why we value it seems a mystery to many who observe this essential symbol of our faith. The cross is made up of the vertical beam which is our relationship with God. It has also the cross beam which is our relationship with others. Our Lord today invites us to keep the two together.
One final thought. Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Our Lord is not saying it is good to love oneself in a vain glorious, pride filled way. I am thinking of people who may not love themselves. People with low self-esteem. Many of us are damaged by events in our lives that have unsettled us, undermined our confidence, made us feel vulnerable and maybe ineffective. Some people compare themselves to others and feel they are not as good as them. Our Lord reached out to people who felt like this to let them see how important they were to Him. Mary told us in her Magnificat, that her Son would raise up the lowly. Many in the world are feeling among the lowly for lots of reasons. We must ask our Lord to lift our spirits so that we are positive and optimistic.
Fr. Gerard X