When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “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. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Just about every Christian knows the two great commands. Just about every Christian knows that they are the bedrock of the faith.
Pretty straight forward. Pretty simple.
Then why do we find them so hard? I believe that even though Jesus said they are inextricably linked, too many people separate them.
If we practice religion but do not love, if we are indifferent to the sufferings of others, if we are not committed to love of neighbor, if we do not look around at our life situation and respond to the needs of the poor, the orphan, the immigrant, the widow, the suffering who are in our midst, then our religion becomes an empty shell. It is a façade that betrays a self-centered ego not an other-directed person.
There is an inseparable unity between the two great commands. God is love. It is His very nature. If we truly worship God, we center our life around Love Himself. If we don’t love, we don’t worship Him. To love is to commit to the well-being of another, to make sacrifices for them, all so that they may know the love of God and that God may be loved by them.
Loving God has everything to do with being kind and charitable toward our neighbors especially those who are most in need. Loving God has everything to do with being just in our dealings with others, sharing our resources to help others live a life befitting their dignity as human beings and children of God, forgiving, etc. In the divine plan, love for God is never separated from love of flesh and blood people. Put another way, though God must always come first, there is no true love of Him which is not incarnated in love of neighbor.
The key to incorporating the two commands into our very lives is to work every day at making God the center of our life. If we do that then the second commandment of loving our neighbor becomes easier. He likens the love of neighbor to the love of God. John wrote, No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1Jn. 4:12).
When one does it often enough it becomes a habit. If this sounds too serendipitous then reflect on one other part. To love somebody who is lovable is easy to do, but we are called love those that are different from us, those who may even make us uncomfortable in their difference.
So, what do we do when we have to gulp hard and love “the unlovable?” We need to look at the standard by which we will be judged and that is the love that appears to us from the cross. Was our life an evasion of the cross, a constant pursuit of our own well-being, as it is for some today? Or, was our life the pursuit of that crucified love? Was every day of our life an effort to become more deeply entwined into the life of the Son of God?
It’s an important question, because the Joy of Heaven is all about love. If we do not know the joy of loving the poor and suffering of this world, we have not yet had a foretaste of the joy of heaven, and we just might feel very out of place in heaven if we die without ever having learned to love, without tasting the joy of loving.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, your love surpasses all. Flood my heart with your love and increase my faith and hope in your promises. Help me to give myself in generous service to others as you have so generously given yourself to me.”
Faith in God and hope in his promises strengthens us in the love of God. They are essential for a good relationship with God, for being united with him. The more we know of God the more we love him and the more we love him the greater we believe and hope in his promises. The Lord Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us a new freedom to love as he loves. Paul the Apostle writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free… only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [sinful inclinations], but through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:1,13). Do you allow anything to keep you from the love of God and the joy of serving others with a generous heart?