Hosea 14: 2-10
Mark 12: 28-34
These two commandments, which Jesus cites as the heart and soul of our Judeo-Christian faith, are not discriminatory; they include everyone: “the stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. (Lev 19:33)
Long before Christ was born, this commandment was given to the Chosen People, and even though this ideal often clashed with grim reality, they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what was required to them – and in their best moments, they took it to heart.
And of course, when Christ came, he didn’t abolish the law – rather he repeated it with reverence: Love God with your whole heart and soul – with all the passion and vitality that mark a person who is God’s son or daughter. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength. Love him intelligently and with a common sense that plans and looks ahead.
And, your neighbor. Jesus echoes Leviticus: you must love your neighbor as yourself. And you don’t define neighbor by race or religion. Neighbor is a four-letter word spelled n-e-e-d. Like the fellow traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem who was mugged and left wounded and hurt. He needed someone to treat his wounds and care for him. The Good Samaritan did what any Jew was bound to do. But Jesus himself went even further – the night before he died, he told us to love one another “as I have loved you”. It’s no longer just “love your neighbor as yourself” – but, “as I have loved you”!
And how is that? For love of us, God’s eternal Son emptied himself of his external glory and became one of us, came out of a woman’s body just as you and I were born, learned to think and talk just as you and I learn, grew as hungry and weary as we do, sweat blood because he was afraid to die, yet died a criminal’s death for our sins – whispering forgiveness on all of us. That’s how much He loved us and that’s the criterion he demands when he tells us to love one another.
So, what Jesus calls the first and second commandments aren’t just pious suggestions! They are Christianity at its very rock foundation. So, how do we get that way? By asking God for that grace – and asking – and asking – and asking again and again. And in the very asking we are loving. The Eucharist which we receive at Mass is food that strengthens us for the task. We grow in love as we share in the life of God incarnate. And so, at this very moment we are drawing closer, nearer even than the scribe in today’s gospel, to the kingdom of God.
- Fr. Damian Towey, CP is a member of the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center,North Palm Beach,Florida.