October 25, 2020: Homily- 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings especially on the gospel reflect on the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. These two great commandments are the foundation of the entire law and the prophets, that sum up our sole purpose in life, that is, to love. In the first reading, the Book of Exodus teaches us on how to love our neighbor: do not wrong or oppress a stranger; do not harm the widow or orphan; if you lend money, do not act like a moneylender by demanding interest; if you take neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it. And the second reading, St. Paul talks about the Thessalonians turned from false gods to worship the one true God.
(For) the past few weeks we have been reflecting on the Pharisees, the Jewish elders and the scribes who placed the law above all else. Last Sunday, we heard the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question about paying taxes to Caesar. And Jesus said his response, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.”
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees strike back again at Jesus, by asking Him the greatest commandment. Actually, there are 613 commandments which the Pharisees had identified in the Torah: 248 of them are positive commandments and 365 negative commandments. So which of these 613 is the greatest? To answer the question, Jesus quotes the Book of Deuteronomy and stressed that, above all, we must love God. Then he quotes the Book of Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Indeed, the Jews already knew which is the greatest, that is, to love God above all else but Jesus’ answer goes far beyond the question and includes love of neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor must go together. St. John’s first letter says that we cannot have one without the other ( 1John 4:20-21). Jesus never says that the love of God above all and the love of neighbor as yourself are the same thing. But, rather, they are two sides of the one coin; they are inseparable from each other.
To love God above all sounds great but are we aware of how often we violate the first important commandment? Too often, things come first in our life when we say, ‘family first,’ or ‘earning enough money first,’ or ‘work first.’ This is fine and good but where does God come in? I’m sure not in the first place but in the last.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church said regarding the greatest commandment (CCC #2083 & #2196): Love of God means putting Him first, respecting His Name, and keeping His Day holy [the Sabbath; Sunday for us]. To love God means a dedication of the entire person to His will, placing Him first in one’s mind and the heart, speaking respectfully about Him, and keeping His Day as one of prayer and true recreation, a day to keep His Law. Love of God transforms lives every waking moment of every day.
Every Sunday we are gathered in our church in order to pray and worship God. During the offertory, we offer our money in the collection basket, according to the homily of a priest that I read, but we offer too, our pains, our hurts, our sacrifices, the struggles of the past week and so on.
In the Old Testament, the chosen people must give a tithe of ten percent to God. The Book of Leviticus says: “One tenth of all the produce of the earth or the fruits of trees, belongs to Yahweh…”
But in the New Testament, ten percent is never enough; we should give to God one hundred percent. Christ didn’t say we should give ten percent of our heart, of our soul, of our mind, of our strength to God; He says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind,” (Mt 22:37).
This does not mean that we should stay in the church for twenty-four hours a day, but rather, to put the love of God in everything that we do; in everything that we do, put God first; in every decision that we make, put God’s love upon it. St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians (3:23), says: “Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, working for the Lord.”
And what about our love of neighbor, how do we concretely express this? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us that any person who crosses our way and is in need is our neighbor. Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because, as God’s children, all of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him. Love for our neighbor should not be a matter of feelings, but of deeds.
Since every human being is the child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, therefore, we are expressing our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him or her. This means we need to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone without discrimination. Forgiveness, too, is important. We should avoid grudges for a wrong done to us. We also express love through encouragement and by helping others to grow. We should express love by using the talents and blessings that God has given us to comfort each other, to teach each other and to share the Gospel with each other, in deeds and in words.
But the error of the Pharisees is still here with us. There are still many Christians who try to separate love of fellow human beings from love of God. Their commitment to faith does not include commitment to human rights and to justice and peace issues. We should take the meaning of the message of Jesus in today’s gospel: that true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to separate them is to disprove the message of Christ, that, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
That is why, each time we approach communion and say “Amen”, we agree to keep on keeping on loving God and loving our neighbor.