Exodus 22: 20-26 + Psalm 18 + Thessalonians 1: 5-10 + Matthew 22: 34-40
October 29, 2023 at Saint William Parish in Naples, Florida
There is a great temptation we all face to separate love of God from love of people. We may well go out of this church today and demonstrate how we have separated the two by the way we get out of the parking lot. Those opponents of Jesus will not let up. Last week it was all about coins and Caesar this week is about law not surprisingly raised by what Matthew calls, “a student of the law.” It’s one of those be careful what you ask for moments. He asks for one law and gets two. In sitting with this text, we should take note that when Jesus says the second is like the first, the word like not mean imply they are separate. It means they are the same. They are equal in importance and inseparable. A door hangs on two hinges. If one is out of alignment it will not swing properly or open easily. If love of God and love of neighbor are out of balance, our lives will be badly aligned.
In spite of what Jesus says, love of God and love of another human person are tough to imagine. I find a command to love God a little puzzling. First of all, if love is spontaneous and free, how can it be commanded? God, being God after all does not need our love, nor is God changed by our love as a neighbor, a spouse, or a child is changed by love.
We know what love of neighbor looks like. All you have to do is watch people married for fifty or sixty years who are content to sit quietly in each other’s presence. It’s also an act of gratitude for years of simply staying together sharing sorrows and joys.
In this commandment a serious challenge that pushes our limits. There is a teaching here that without love for an “other”, especially a stranger and even our enemy, we become caught in a one-dimensional kind of self-love. That’s wrong! Without contact with people whose experience, culture or faith tradition stretches us, we live trapped in a self-affirming hall of mirrors. The God who is bigger than we can ever imagine commands us to love an “other” lest we fall into narcissistic idolatry. Loving someone like us is no big deal. It does not even require a commandment. It’s really kind of self-love that might not be very healthy in the long run.
Saint Ignatius left behind a kind of “how to” list at the end of his Spiritual Exercises called: “Contemplation to Attain the love of God.” He didn’t mean how to attain God’s love for us because that’s a given. He did mean our love of God which always needs coaching. First on the list is the simple reality that love consists more of deeds than words, that lovers give what they have to each other. Then he says that we have to place ourselves in the presence of the Lord asking the Lord to wake us up to the gifts we have received and to stir up our gratitude. After that he offers four concrete ways of getting in touch with those gifts of God.
- Review your life story, calling to mind my own creation, redemption, and other personal gifts.
- Consider how much we ought to offer God. Ignatius does that through his famous prayer: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will – all that I have and possess. You, Lord have given all that to me. I now give it back to you.”
- Consider how God is present in all creatures giving them existence; giving life to plants, animals, giving humans emotions and intelligence, and finally how he dwells in me making me his temple, since I am created as a likeness and image of the divine Majesty.
- Finally, there is a focus on how God works for me, cares and provides, protects and comforts and how all good things around me are just a partial reflection of their source.
As Matthew says at the end of this episode, “That’s all there is.” Without love, there is nothing, nothing at all, and without love we are nothing.