'We are called to be a Church of love today ...'
Posted: Wed, 21 Oct 2020 13:26
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB's reflection for 30th Sunday of the year looks at the commandment Jesus told us was the most important, and how we need to live by it today. Gospel: Matthew 22:34–40.
"All you need is love", so the Beatles told us 1960s, while in the fourth century, St Augustine was able to preach with confidence "love and do what you will!" The Gospel message of love lies at the heart of Jesus's mission and today we meet another one of the 'holier than thou' brigade: a Pharisee who wants to quiz Jesus on his knowledge of scripture—not the sharpest knife in the 'Pharisee drawer' I think!
One of the good things of lockdown was the chance to read things that I would not normally have time for. A medical friend of mine recommended, 'Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery' by Dr Robert Seizer. He talks about his experience of removing a cancerous tumour from the face of a young woman. Sadly during the operation, a facial nerve was cut causing a distortion in her face, leaving her looking as if she had a stroke. On a visit to her bedside, he noticed a young man sitting with her; she wanted to know if the distortion was permanent and Dr Seizer had to admit that it was. A shadow of pain covered her face while the young man chirped up immediately saying that it actually made her look 'cute'. He then goes on to describe the action of her husband—the young man has an instinctive grasp of what God's love is, how it is revealed in the love we have for each other:
One is not bold in an encounter with God. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I, so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show that their kiss still works
The brave Pharisee asks Jesus which is the GREATEST commandment. According to Hebrew scripture there are over 600 commands that the faithful Jew was expected to follow. The danger is that our relationship with God can become a list of 'do's' and 'don't's' instead of a reaching out in care to God through love of others and care for ourselves. The danger is that some of us can use the sacred words of scripture to support our own agenda—it becomes a total love of self and what is important to me! There is an amazing scene in an episode of the US Presidential drama 'The West Wing' (another benefit of lockdown!): the fictional President Bartlett is hosting a 'Prayer Breakfast' for various religious groups. One of the attendees is a popular ultra conservative radio host who uses the Bible to back up her own hateful views. The script writers play a masterstroke in having Bartlett using scripture against her to show that we cannot just pick and choose scripture in the moral issues of our time. The story of the young man's love for his wife shows how we have to accommodate each other in this great adventure of love.
Jesus replies to the Pharisee in biblical simplicity, drawing on the tradition from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
• love God
• love neighbour
• love self
Nothing could be simpler; you can't legislate for love. You can't enforce the commandment to love in a Court of Law, as you can the commandment not to murder or to steal. Love is not quantifiable in the penal code. Love has to do with grace—it is something special. The Bible describes the love of God as Agape—when the word "agape" is used in the Bible, it refers to a pure, willing, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another's highest good. God's Agape-Love is a love that loves regardless of how the person responds. It is something that you cannot earn. It is freely given and does not depend on the worthiness of the recipient.
St Paul put it like this:
But God demonstrated his love towards us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We are called to be a church of love today; these times have given us time to re-evaluate and to see what is important and who we truly value—who do we really love? COVID-19 has been like a huge global 'pause' button; as we move forward to continue preaching the Gospel of Jesus—only using words when we have to!—Pope Francis reminds us:
Jesus loved us despite our frailties, our limitations and our human weaknesses. It was He who made us worthy of His love, which knows no limits and never ends. By giving us the new commandment, He asks us to love one another not only with our love, but with his love, the love the Holy Spirit infuses into our hearts if we invoke him with faith.
Pope Francis, May 20, 2019