(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. It is good to hear the Word of God.)
In the Gospel this Sunday, some Pharisees come once again to test him again. They are always doing that, aren’t they? Trying to find a weakness in him. One of them steps forward to ask,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
We might think this is not such a tricky question. Aren’t there only 10 commandments? In fact, in the law handed down by God to Moses, there are more like 613 commandments! So, which one of them is the greatest? There are a lot of commandments to order and sort. Jesus, though, is able to summarize all of the commandments by quoting Holy Scripture. He says,
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Everything hangs on these, he says. All of the law, and what the prophets heard.
“Commandment” is a word that not everybody likes. It can make us think of commands, of being told what to do. Instead, a commandment is something that God asks of us. God calls us to act in a certain way. A commandment is a call to action.
What are we being asked to do?
The first commandment is to love God with heart, soul, and mind—our whole selves, nothing held back. The second commandment asks us to love both our neighbour and ourselves. We know that loving our neighbour involves many people—people we live with, people we encounter, especially people in need.
Jesus loves like this, doesn’t he? At the Last Supper he takes, blesses, and gives his apostles the bread and wine, saying, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” On the cross, when he dies, we understand what he has done. In the bread and in the wine he has already given all of himself. He has already poured out his whole self—body and life—(can you live without your blood??)—he has held nothing back. He does this out of love for all. He loves completely, and makes of his life a perfect offering to God.
We are being called to love like this, too. To pour out our lives as an offering to God.
But here’s the real question: don’t we have to like our neighbour before loving them? Doesn’t liking come first? If we are being honest, there are people we do not like very much. And if we are being very, very honest, some people we do not like at all. If we do not like our neighbour, is it even possible to love our neighbour?
I notice that Jesus does not say anything about liking. I cannot imagine that he likes very much these Pharisees who keep testing him. But remember, a commandment is a call to action. We are called to act out of love, even when we do not like.
Jesus acts. He pours out his life for all. He loves.
Loving, it seems, is an action. It is different from liking, which is a feeling. So, how do we act when we do not like someone?
We can begin by refraining from hurting the person with our words and our actions. Refraining is also an action. It requires control of our bodies to resist the temptation to talk about someone behind their backs, to insult or ridicule, to injure or harm. It requires the gift of Fortitude.
Are we able to love further? Are we able to be kind to the ones we do not like? Are we able to help these people? Could we ever, like Jesus, give ourselves—our time, our care--to people we do not like?
It seems impossible.
But the commandments say, “You shall…You shall…”
If someone says, “I shall make you dinner,” we know that we are going to be fed. If someone says, “You shall wake up rested,” we know we are about to have a good night's sleep. If a parent says to us, “you shall do your homework, before you hang out with friends,” what do we know is in our near future? ;)
God says, “You shall.” It seems that God has confidence in us. This can be done.
Do we love on our own? Do we decide on these loving actions on our own? Of course not. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who loves through us, guiding our actions, if only we will say, yes.
Everything hangs on these, he says. All of the law, and what the prophets heard. And what did the prophets hear? A vision of a Kingdom, built on love.