[30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, Oct 26, 2104. / Exod 22:20-26 / Ps 18:2-3a, 3b-4, 47+51 / 1 Thess 1:5c-10 / Matt 22:34-40]
IN the Gospel of today, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” A challenging question, as the Jewish Law contained 613 precepts. Jesus goes to the essential: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
With so many rules and regulations around, Jesus reminds us what it is all about — love. On this everything will be judged. St John of the Cross said, “At the eve of our life we will be judged on only one thing.” Yes you guessed it: whether we have loved. We are called to love God with all our being. We can ask ourselves straight away – Is my prayer, my dialogue with God that of a lover? Do I really love him? If we really loved him we wouldn’t have such long faces in Church. The Risen Christ asked, “Do you love me?” When we talk to God we need to talk to him with so much love. St Alphonsus Liguori said that if we talk to our friends and the ones we love with affection, how much more tender and affectionate we need to be with God, who is pure love.
In the first reading, there are some precepts of the Law – love the widow, take care of the orphan, do not charge interest on loans. All of these are natural consequences of a loving heart. There are many precepts in being Christian – to pray, to go to Mass, to go to the sacrament of reconciliation. When I fulfil these, is it to fulfil the law or because I am filled full of love? The former will always seek the minimum, to do the least possible. For the lover on the other hand no task is too big. The legal point of view causes us to seek reasons to go to Mass once a week. For the lover, it is difficult to stop them. The Sunday Mass is a moment to encounter face to face the one we say we love and to listen to him. Imagine someone saying he was in love but then having difficulty to meet his beloved just once a week for a meal that the beloved pays for in full! Or regarding the obligation to confess once a year, imagine we met someone who promises that they are loving perfectly, never making a mistake, and it was always the fault of the other. Would we not be a little suspicious as to whether this person was really loving if she was not able to recognize her mistakes, and to ask forgiveness for her faults and failings? In our loving of God and our neighbor no wonder many sensitive souls go once a month to the Sacrament of Reconciliation or even more often.
An example may help us to see how our Christian faith becomes alive when we see our behavior through the optic of love. At the moment, there are campaigns to help avoid drinking alcohol excessively, especially binge drinking. This can be conceived by some as an external rule imposed against “freedom.” Let us examine this not as a law but in the light of love. Getting drunk is to disrespect our own body, to not love it. Our body is sacred, a gift from God, a temple of the Holy Spirit. We can believe that it is OK as no one else suffers. A visit to any Hospital Emergency room on a Friday or Saturday night would stop one saying that so easily. Many innocent people suffer the consequences of other people’s drunkenness. How many car accidents and incidents of violence have their root at least in a part to alcohol abuse? Even if the alcohol is consumed at home with no apparent ills, what can one say about the cost involved? Couldn’t at least some of that money be better spent on other things? However we don’t want to become killjoys and prudence is required – even St Paul encouraged Timothy to drink some wine and surely even Jesus and his disciples enjoyed a glass or two at Cana. What is to be avoided then is consumption in excess such that one loses control of reason and instead of dominating it, the alcohol comes to dominate the person. It is understandable why many noble people abstain from alcohol, offering up this sacrifice for many whose lives are dominated and destroyed through alcohol abuse.
Let us ask the grace to be in love with Jesus and not only followers of the law. Not just to do the minimum but to love with all our heart, mind and strength. Our discipleship is not about following rules and regulations but about following Christ. He wants our hearts, he wants our love. He wants lovers not more lawyers.