30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 2017 (29 Oct)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
In the words of Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
To which the answer, taken from today’s Gospel, is: Everything!!
We are created in the image of God who is love. Our hope, our joy, our happiness and our peace in this life are to be found and are centred in this one truth; that we are created in the image of love that we may love and know that we are loved.
When the Pharisee (who, like all Pharisees, was an expert in “the law and the prophets”) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus summarises the entire law in his simple and profound reply:
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul and we must love each other as we love ourselves.
Essentially, Jesus’ reply is quite orthodox. There’s nothing radical in the two commandments he quotes. The commandment to love God comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) and the command to love our neighbour comes from The Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). What is radical is that Jesus is saying emphatically that we can’t separate loving God from loving our neighbour.
The Pharisees professed great love for God in their obedience to the law but they demonstrated scarce love for the people; they were arrogant, aloof and critical.
Jesus is not throwing out the 613 commandments. He is simply saying that all the other commandments hang on the Greatest Commandment: love God and love your neighbour.
The love for God and neighbour are intently linked. Religious and political extremists of any persuasion who harm their neighbour in the name of God are about as far from God and the truth as can be imagined. They are testimony to the presence and reality of evil in the world.
This love that Jesus talks about is not some fleeting, fickle, self-indulgent emotion. It’s a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third.
First, he said, we must love God; starting with the heart.
When we desire what God desires, we love with our heart.
When we cherish and actively try to understand God’s love for us and the world, we love with our mind.
When we joyfully live our lives following those desires and that understanding, we love with our soul; with our whole being.
This is an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that constantly influences and directs our actions, our desires and our thoughts.
We can’t grow and sustain that relationship if we relegate it to an hour of worship on a Sunday. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, is fulfilling and rewarding in proportion to our commitment to it.
Opening our heart and mind to an intimate relationship with God can be as challenging as it is in human relationships. We find it difficult exposing and admitting our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires; even to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some find the Sacrament of Reconciliation daunting.
Trust is the core of our relationships with God and with each other.
In our human relationships Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love our self.
So this would imply that if we are not able to love ourselves, we are not able to love our neighbour; and this obviously would seriously undermine our relationship with God.
In terms of self-love, Jesus is not for a moment referring to self-centred, conceited vanity that excludes love of anyone other than self.
The self-love Jesus is talking about is seeing ourselves, warts and all, as God’s beloved.
We love ourselves because we are loved; we are created in the image of God who is love. Nothing else is relevant.
This self-love is not dependent on our physical size, fat or thin; our intellect, bright or dim; age, old or young; physical condition, healthy or infirm; physical features, attractive or plain, athletic or disabled; our wealth, affluent or destitute; sexual orientation, gay or straight; our careers, success or failure; our popularity, liked or disliked.
Warts and all, we are God’s precious creation. We are loved as we are.
When we embrace that understanding of God’s love for us, we learn to love ourselves.
Through our numerous human differences we glimpse the vastness and diversity of God’s creation that is so much more than just me and my world.
Some years ago a young man in our parish asked me why he had not been born perfect like everyone else in his family. He’d been born with a physical disability. He was kind and gentle, humble and funny, intelligent and caring. It wasn’t difficult to see the image of God in his less than perfect body.
When we focus on what we don’t love about ourselves, wanting to be someone else, when we can’t find the love of God in ourselves, we become deaf and blind to the needs of others. If fact we share the same space as those who are blinded by the perception of their own brilliance.
The way we treat our neighbour then could be a reflection of our self-love.
It’s often easier to express our love for our neighbour who is far away; those caught up in political persecuted or abject poverty or those suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.
But the real test is with those closest to us; our families, friends, colleagues, parishioners; the waiter, shop assistant and hungry beggar. Do they see us as being kind and gentle, generous and compassionate, patient and considerate? Do they see the joy of our certainty of God’s love for us in our eyes and in our words; and in our actions?
The more love we carry in our hearts for God and our neighbour, the better we reflect the image of God that we each carry within us.