At times in the gospel, we must be thankful to Jesus, because he had a marvelous instinct for simplifying things. In his time, it is written that there were more than 600 laws that devout Jews were supposed to know and follow, dietary rules, rules about behavior, more than half were things that you were simply never to do. So it might seem like it was a bit of a big deal for Jesus to say that really, not to ignore the other 600 laws, but if you could do two of them right, love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and to be told that if you do that, you’re not far from the kingdom of God, that’s redemptive. It was uncommon for a scribe and Jesus to discuss with someone whose business it was to know all those laws, and yet who realized that they were not all of equal meaning, who was willing to say that God possibly doesn’t get that much satisfaction from burnt offerings, what God gets pleasure from than anything is our love, our love for God, and to see us authentically love one another. It is the same for us today, many of us feel like we do not know enough about our faith, or that we could not explain it to someone else. There are about 3,000 numbered paragraphs in our catechism explaining what we trust and how we should live, and to believe, if we get these two things right, that we can feel good about where we are in our walk, which is almost un-Catholic, isn’t it?
Just two commandments that Jesus gave to be accepted as a citizen in good standing by Jesus Christ himself. Before we feel too comfortable, though, about the easiness of what Jesus is saying here, we must remember the way Jesus saw the state of this world we live in. From the surface what Jesus is asking for sounds very peaceful and simple, but he is involving us in something much larger. Because when you read the gospels, it is impactable not to realize that Jesus saw this world in the hands of a dominion that needs fighting against, and he is recruiting us in building the kingdom that is going to be the alternative to that power. Sometimes we see this power that we are fighting, we see it daily on the streets and on the news, we see it in wars that go on for years and deprive people of the basics of life, we see it when people are demonized, rejected, and feared. We are not sure what this power is sometimes, but we see what love is up against, and we do not see how love is going to win. But the kind of love Jesus is asking for here triumphs over anything. He is not saying for us to be even-tempered, mild-mannered patience with everyone, or leaving people alone the way we would mostly like to be left alone. Instead, the love he is talking about is love that is 100% focused on God and others, love people who are hurting and who have nothing and no one else. And in this war, our weapon is not a rule book but a love that always asks the question, what if that were me? What would I want to have happen if I were them? If I were that person who is coming up here from another country, that person whose lengthy illness is so dispiriting and unfixable, that person who stands for things I do not believe in or understand. How would I want to be treated, for what would I desire? We may not be able to repair any of those situations, we do not know how to, and we cannot but acts of love towards others are the sign we need in this world of another way of life, of that other kingdom that is still on its way. This one commandment is not such an easy commandment to follow, as it appears today. Simple does not mean easy. What is going to save us from disappointment, from giving up? If we only had the second part as our labor, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we could never do it. But God gave us this, a gift of love.
This commandment says that all God wants is a connection of love with us,
establish love as our first job in life, before anything else, realize that we already have it. God is not an inactive participant waiting for us to take the lead here, saving the world by ourselves. We cannot fight this all-alone God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all the angels and Saints are assisting us. God is already trying to have love take over. The love you have knowledge of from God in your life, the love that is poured out here in this parish, the love that God already showed for this world by sending his Son to the Cross, it is all on our side. Love has already rescued this world and us.
In the first reading today from the Old Testament where we heard these two commandments laid out for the people of Israel, God had already brought these people to the edge of the promised land, and that is available for us, also. We are not digging ourselves out of a hole against impossible odds. We have work to do, but it is as if we should know that God has already suffered death for us. Our relationship with God is already so influential that we can turn to Him no matter what needs to occur. We know it, and yet, we lose faith. We are human. We will at times feel like the odds are against love in this world.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that in an age where evil is multiplied, most people’s love will grow cold, and some days it does seem as if that is possible.
St. Oscar Romero, who gave his life fighting this fight.
He said, let us never tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.
Today we ask God to keep our love from dying, and to give us life to put love to work where love is required most.