The word “love” is probably the most over-used word in the English language. A recent web search found literally millions of “love” sites! We tend to use “love” so often, in so many circumstances, and for so many reasons, that it has lost its original rather limited meaning. Yet, when Jesus was asked in today’s Gospel about the greatest commandment, he very specifically used “love” to identify the relationship between God and us, and the relationship necessary among all of us. The word “love” that Jesus used was not the over-worked term so often used today, but “love” in its deepest and most demanding sense. “You shall love the Lord your God, …and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is God’s greatest commandment and God’s greatest gift.
Jesus was not the first teacher to couple together the command to love God and neighbor, but his statement was unique because it put these two laws on an equal level of importance and defined them as mutually interdependent. This interdependence means that we cannot proclaim to love God unless we demonstrate that level of love to our neighbor. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus made it clear that without this interdependent love connection, authentic liturgical celebration is not possible. “…Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” [Matt. 5:24] Only then will your celebration be true and not a lie.
The love that Jesus calls us to have for our neighbor, especially the poor and the needy, cannot be the over-worked “love” that has lost its power to shape behavior and impact lives. The love required of us must be heartfelt and put into action. This love must ask the tough questions about injustice and oppression; questions that some of us don’t want to answer.
For example, do we consider refugees fleeing from violence and oppression our brothers and sisters? Do we consider the homeless and hungry our brothers and sisters? Do we consider those of different ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds our brothers and sisters? Our intimacy with God will be based on the love and intimacy we have shared with all of God’s people. A challenging statement, yes, but a reality we cannot avoid. “Truly I tell you, what you did to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40]
Love, Jesus-style is illustrated by a quote from spiritual writer; Douglas Hare who reminds us: “The primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings may well up within us when we consider the mutual love we share with God, but warm feelings must be supported by a deliberate and daily commitment to our neighbor.” This will require that each of us find our own practical way of living out Jesus’ dual commandment---love your God and love your neighbor!
Where do we find love today? Love is in the Holy Spirit, waiting for our response. Love is in the people of God, waiting for our service, and love is in the world, waiting to reshape the tragedies of life. Everywhere love is waiting. How would Jesus evaluate the love reflected in Christians today? How would he find you and me? Ponder this Dorothy Day quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Jesus demonstrated his love for us by becoming one of us and showing us how we are to live. We, who declare our love for him, are called to do the same. Oh, the possibilities! ----Deacon Wilson Shierk