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Love! It’s that Simple
Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40
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Today, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew is answering yet another challenge,
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
It is really an impossible question. Which law is the greatest? How would you rank order the Ten Commandments? Take a minute. Start with the least important and move to the most important. Using St Augustine’s grouping of the commandments, they are,
I am the Lord your God and you shalt not have any strange gods before me.
You shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
Honor your father and mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
Is it better to lie and steal than kill? Is it better to forsake a few Sunday’s or Holy Days of Obligation than to commit adultery or vice versa? Is that living in the imitation of Christ? Is that loving God and neighbor?
As you try to rank order them, what you may find is that the sin you find most troublesome in your own life is at the bottom of the list. How do we make it less troublesome? We say that it is not that big of a deal. After all, it is number ten out of ten! I had a friend tell me that he has some issues with honoring his parents, after all, they had wronged him. He does emphasize, but I really do love God! Therefore, I am basically a good person and of course, God loves me and will forgive my one failing. That is a slippery slope. If each is a command, how can we selectively say, “No, not that one, not today!”
God does love us, yet He also COMMANDS that we love Him in return in all ten Commandments. If Jesus had tried to rank order the list, He would have been caught in a snare of endless argument. He does not do this but answers in a way which, once again, stops any further discussion. Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus makes it very simple for us. Love! Yet that is so difficult. Sadly, in this hate driven society, I am sure that right now you can picture that person or group that you love to hate. You may think, “I do not hate anyone.” Really, if you are not loving them, willing their good before your own, aren’t you hating them? Jesus tells us,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–39)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44)
We are charged to love God with every fiber of our being, heart, soul, and mind. Yet, we cannot truly love God without loving who God loves. Our love of neighbor flows from our love of God. Jesus says to the Pharisees in the Gospel today that, the second command, to love your neighbor as yourself is “like” the first command to love God. That word “like,” in Greek, is ὅμοιος (hŏmŏiŏs) which means “the same” or “equal in force;” (Liddell Greek English Lexicon). There is no conceivable way to rank order the Commandments. This word, “like – hŏmŏiŏs,” creates an interdependence between loving God and loving your neighbor. When we do not love our neighbor, with the same intensity that we profess to love God, then we are not really loving God with our whole being. This interdependence of loving God and neighbor equally is beautifully stated in many places in Sacred Scripture,
St John puts it very bluntly,
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20)
Jesus loved the Father so much that He suffered death on a cross so that He could redeem His neighbors who were crucifying Him. Christ’s love for us is driven by His love for the Father and His love for the Father drives His love for us. You cannot separate the two. St James writes,
“For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.” (James 2:10)
If you now go back to your rank ordered list, you can now see that failing to adhere to any of the Commandments is a failure to love God. The implication is clear. We cannot do anything less than love our neighbor. We must place their good ahead of our own. In a world driven by, my rights, my freedom, what I choose, what I desire, how I want to live, Jesus calls for us to be countercultural. We are called to live for the other, to love our neighbor, and only in this way can we truly love God. Also, remember this is a command. Do it!
Will any of us ever be perfect in following the Law? Probably not. But we are to strive to do it. Today and everyday resolve to love God with every fiber of your being, heart, mind, and soul. Do this by finding the one who is the most difficult to love and become the mirror of God’s love for them in action. It will be life changing for both you and your neighbor. Then choose someone else. As the saints will tell you, practice makes perfect. Love, it is that simple.
Liddell, Henry George et al. A Greek-English lexicon 1996: 1224. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.