The relationship between God and man is a special bond of love. St. John tells us that God is love and because he is love he created the universe and made man master and masterpiece of his creation. God is present in every bit of creation and presents himself to the human person as an extension of himself. God loves each person individually and calls us to love one another as he loves us.
Let’s look at the following scenarios:
You get called into your boss’ office for your performance review. You’re not too worried. You get along with everybody at work. Of course, you are aware that many of your co-workers do a better job than you. Most work harder. Most take more pride in their job. Most follow procedures and rules to the letter. Most look out for the company’s interests. But that’s not everything, right? That’s just basic differences between people. And you’ve been there a few years, so you can’t imagine you’re in any kind of jeopardy. But your boss has a really serious look on her face. She says to you, “I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’re letting you go. You’ve been doing a really poor job.” She pulls out a folder and goes through all the ways you messed up over the past year. Faulty work. Coming in late. Inappropriate comments and behavior. Sleeping on the job. Passing work off on other people. It’s a long list. You quickly chime in, “But that’s me. You know me. I’m a good guy. I need this job.” She says, “I’m sorry. But given all these things I just read from your file, what other conclusion could I have come to?”
Here’s another. You try out for your high school basketball team. You know everyone else who is trying out. In fact you’ve played on other teams with most of them growing up. And the truth is, you were always one of the better players. And your coaches loved you. But this high school coach is new. He doesn’t have a history with any of the people trying out. On the last day of tryouts he puts up a list of the players who made the team. Your name is not there. You rush over to plead with him to reconsider, but that doesn’t work. He tells you, “The other kids worked super-hard all week. You seemed to be dogging it. They put in the work. They looked faster than you. They appeared to have more skill than you. And they clearly wanted it more than you. I’m sorry, but what other conclusion could I have come to?”
One more. Your marriage of ten years has been on shaky ground. You go to your spouse for another one of your “heart-to-hearts”, even though they haven’t been that fruitful in the past. Your spouse just doesn’t seem to “get it”. As you sit down you notice that he has that “Not again,” look on his face. One more time you go through all the ways he has seriously disappointed you, all the ways he has hurt you, all the times he hasn’t been there for you. He says emphatically, “But Honey, I love you.” You pause, fighting back tears, and say words you hoped you would never have to say. “I don’t believe you. I know that’s hard for you to hear, but what other conclusion could I have come to?”
And God asks us here today – you and me – “Do you love me?”
That’s an easy one. Of course we love God. More than anything. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. We pray when we get up and before meals and when we turn in at night. We read Scripture (once in a while, of course). We support the Church financially. We abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, and fast when the Church asks us to. We visit well-known churches and other holy sites when we go on vacation in far-off lands. And we don’t do anything too bad, just small stuff for the most part. Of course we love God!
Isn’t that the only conclusion God can come to?
“One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied ‘The first is this: Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Why does Jesus add that second one? Couldn’t he just have stopped after referencing the passage from Deuteronomy (the most well-known prayer in Judaism – called the Shema). Wouldn’t that have been enough?
Evidently not. And the reason is something that should be obvious, but often isn’t – something that makes perfect sense, but it’s one most of us wish wasn’t so. You see, Jesus adds the second one not as some kind of “extra” commandment, but because you can’t have one without the other. They aren’t really two commandments. Love of God IS love of neighbor (and vice-versa). And we can’t pretend that we’re doing the first – we can’t keep assuring ourselves that we love God – if we can’t show that we’re doing the second, that we are caring for our fellow human beings. Love of neighbor truly is the only real evidence of love of God. Let me say that again. Love of neighbor truly is the only real evidence of love of God. The rest is just words, just things we say, just things we tell ourselves and try to convince ourselves so we feel better.
And so I ask again, do we love God?
I hope I do. I hope that’s the only conclusion God can come to. But I’m not going to measure it by how much time I do “religious” things. I’m only going to measure it by the love I show others, by the mercy I give and the compassion I show and the forgiveness I extend and the needs of others that I meet. That’s the only way I’ll know for sure.
Today, I’m inviting each of you to do the same.
A Short Story
One of the most sacred things a Moslem can do is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. It is one of the five pillars of the Moslem religion.
Once upon a time the king of the cats made a pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return the king of the mice felt obliged to go and congratulate him. But when the other mice heard this they feared for their king’s safety. ‘The cat is our enemy, he can’t be trusted,’ they said.
‘Oh, now that he’s been to Mecca, I expect to see a great change in him. I’m told he prays five times a day,’ the king replied.
So the king mouse set out. On coming into the kingdom of the cats he spotted his opposite member in the distance, and was very impressed by what he saw. Still dressed in his pilgrim’s robe, the king cat was deep in prayer. However, no sooner had the king mouse come near him than he jumped up and pounced. Fortunately the king mouse was a fast mover, and succeeded in escaping down a hole. Later he joined the other mice.
‘How did you get on?’ they asked eagerly. ‘Is it true that since he made the pilgrimage to Mecca he’s a changed cat?’
I’m afraid you’re right,’ came the reply. Though he prays like a pilgrim, he still pounces like a cat.’
My dear people of God, how easy it is to separate the two great commandments; to think that we can have one without the other; that we can love God without loving our neighbor too.
Today, we’re reminded by our Gospel passage that the two are inseparable.