October 26, 2014
Sunday of the 30th week in Ordinary Time A
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
The Greatest Commandment
The message of today’s Gospel is loud and clear: Love is the greatest of all commandments and loving fellow human beings is as important as loving God.
In answering the question about the most important commandment in the law, Jesus focuses equally on the two commandments, namely loving God with one’s “whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and whole strength” and loving one’s neighbour as one’s own self. For Jesus, these two commandments are inseparably related to each other. Love of God and love of the neighbour are two aspects of the same love, not two different kinds of love. They complement each other. Absence of the love of the neighbour means absence of the love of God too.
Here we find the answer to a very natural question: How can you love God whom you have not seen, heard or touched? How can you relate yourself to God who is in his heavenly abode, far away from the world? Jesus bridges the apparent gap between God and the world through the commandment of love.
St. John would say that it is by loving and serving others that we come to the knowledge of God. He has written in his letter: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Loving one another is the way to God, because God is the source of love.
For some people, their search for God is limited to theoretical knowledge. But only the experiential knowledge, gained through loving service can lead you to the true knowledge of God. It is the only way to reach God who is beyond our intellectual grasp. There is no substitute for it.
Jesus has already forewarned that on the day of the Final Judgment the divine verdict will be based on the acts of charity, rendered to the poor, naked, homeless and the sick. When you do something for the poor out of love, you are doing it for God himself. “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me (Mt 25:35-36).
Charity, love of the neighbour is, therefore, the characteristic mark of Christian spirituality. It is neither the cross you wear nor the creed you recite that determines your identity as a Christian, but love and service you render to others.
St. James emphasizes on charitable works as inevitable to keep one’s faith alive and fruitful (Jam 2:14-18). Faith which is not proven by acts of love is dead. How can you be a believer of God, if you have no mercy towards a hungry person? St. James does not mince his words, when he speaks of charity to the poor.
By pointing out the inseparable relationship between love of the neighbour and the love of God, Jesus raises a great challenge to our conscience. It is the challenge to recognize God’s face in humanity, even in its most miserable conditions, in poverty, sickness and oppression. It is consistent with the Incarnation in which God took the form of a human being in Jesus Christ. He became a servant and took on himself the tragic fate of humanity, until he restored it and revealed in it the divine Glory.
The constant temptation to separate the love of God from the love of the neighbour has done great harm to peace and harmony in the world. With this teaching of love Jesus touches this most serious problem which concerns all religions, which claim to have a monopoly of God.
Rivalry and feud in the name of God have been always an inner contradiction which all organized religions have failed to overcome. Religious fanatics have made a mockery of God by carrying swords and guns to defend his name. It is ridiculous to commit atrocities in the name of God. God cannot be the monopoly of any particular religion. When any religion claims God as its monopoly, it reduces God to an idol. It is the negation of the immensity and the universality of God.
Even those believers, who profess their faith in of one and the only God, may run the risk of being idol-worshippers. They absolutize their “image of God” which fits into their concepts, ideologies and interests. They behave as though they “possess” and “protect” that image. They cannot tolerate and understand a different view. In order to reinforce their stand they take the support of the law and the establishments. They extol obedience to the law and thereby forget the heart of the law.
This was the case with many critics of Jesus. Jesus has specifically warned them of their folly: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Mt 23:25-26).
Jesus’ interpretation of the greatest commandment challenges our tendency to make our own “gods” and fitting them into our mental moulds. These mental moulds are characterized by absolutism, fundamentalism, intolerance, hatred, fear, selfish interests and power craze. The fundamentalists are prone to misuse God’s name for intimidating, oppressing and enslaving. These tendencies constitute the profile of a false god or an idol.
All idol worshippers will be destroyed. Idol worshippers are those who oppress the poor and the weak. Idols are the instruments of oppression. As described in the Book of Exodus, God’s anger will fall on those who afflict the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. If they cry out to God in their affliction, God will heed to their cry. This is a warning to all who perpetrate injustice in the form of merciless structures of subjugation and oppression in the name of God. They terrorize and enslave people and exploit their ignorance and fear.
Religious faith should liberate human minds. Jesus offers us in his teaching of love true freedom of the children of God. He offers us the courage to break the moulds of our fixed concepts in which we limit the infinite love of God.
Let the love and mercy of God flow into the hearts of all. As true believers we can be channels of his infinite peace and goodness. Let us love God in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:8).
Dr Sebastian Elavathingal CMI