“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
Today marks the beginning of the last three weeks of the liturgical year. The previous weeks of this year have accented the teachings and healings of Jesus. Towards the end we sense the animosity that different groups took to his teachings. And today’s gospel is like a big bullseye on a target. “My friends, this is what it is all about.” All comes down to how we love. Yes, we know (or think we know) what love means for we are consumed with giving and receiving it. But living love on a daily way is demanding, often beyond us. Love means getting beyond our ego, being willing to be honest about ourselves, even being vulnerable. It means giving ourselves away.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that we are to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. Do we really love God? I guess that depends on whether we really know that God loves us. We are not talking about a feeling but our mind, our thoughts and our actions. How can we be sure we love God? Aha, the second commandment spells it out, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. We can go back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to find the answer to “who is my neighbor?”
Jesus is quoting texts from the books of Exodus and Leviticus for this teaching. It is not new. The first reading, from the book of Exodus, helps us to enflesh this tradition. We often have treated commandments as rules, as qualifications to get to heaven. But the Torah, the commandments, are an expression of a love relationship. As we treat our neighbors, so we are returning God’s love for us. Let’s get specific in this reading. “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” If this doesn’t sound familiar or pertinent to us, think of the migrants and refugees in our midst.
Another example in Exodus zeroes in on our economic relationships. For centuries the practice of usury, taking interest on a loan, was deemed to be forbidden. What does this say about how we treat people in a capitalistic society?
Yes, love makes the world go round. It is central to Biblical teaching. We must go beyond the model of teens in love and dive into the deeper, more demanding way of loving that is all consuming and central to life.