Love God Above All Things
Today in our gospel, we see Jesus surrounded by Pharisees. Somewhat like hostile reporters hustling a political candidate. Everyone shouting out a question. A lawyer comes forward, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” A tricky question because the law had 613 commandments, 248 do’s and 365 don’ts.
Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” No surprise there, the Jews knew this well. But, what startles them is a second commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It startles them because Jesus proclaims this second commandment is like the first. Loving your neighbor is like loving God. It startles them because for Jesus the neighbor is the despised Samaritan, the idolatrous Gentile and the enemy.
It startles them because Jesus weds this commandment to the first and makes them one and says they are greater than all the rest. Live these two and you live them all, live these two and you are doing God’s will. His total will, the only two that He left. He made enemies of the powerful because He put compassion above tradition, love above law, people above things and institutions.
Jesus does not leave the question there. Later on, He would elaborate even further. Recall the Last Supper; His disciples surround Him. He tells them a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” So now, He says that our love for one another has to mirror Jesus’ love for us. And, how did He love us? You can scarcely count the ways. For the love of us, He became human.
Born of a teenage Jewish girl, grew up in a small village, where everyone knew His every secret. Save the big secret that He was not Joseph’s son, but God’s. For the love of us, He walked the long dusty roads of Palestine. Healing the sick and raising the dead, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Hungry and thirsty with no place to lay His head. Each word, each gesture shaped of love.
And all of this crowned by the last great act of love-crucifixion. No greater love than to lay down your life for your friend or for an enemy. Yet, crucifixion was not enough, because He never stops giving. Giving His very self, how many times have you heard those words? “This is My body, given for you.” What does this all mean to you? With all that crowds in upon us. How is it possible today to love God above all things?
The only way I know how, is not to just know about God, but to come to know God. To have in some way experienced Him, to have Him touch you, and you touch Him. Get to know God; you cannot love someone you do not know. And how do we get to know God? First, we have to talk to Him, have to communicate with Him, and we call that prayer. I think most of us try very hard to follow those two great commandments. Love God and each other and teach the children to follow that Golden Rule.
But in the past few years, it seems that too often we read about common graves and unspeakable cruelty and we might ask, “When will it end? What affect will all this horror have on our world and our culture?” Let me share with you a portion of a report given by a social worker just after the Second World War.
If you went into the house, it was like going into a coffin. The people were pale and they had blue numbers on their arms. They were scared to go out and they would not let anyone in.
They only let me in because I was from the government. Both had been in Auschwitz and somehow both had survived, gotten married and made it to the US where they settled in Cleveland.
One day I heard (I swear to you this is true) a scratching inside a closet. I opened the door and there was a small boy; the whitest and thinnest child I ever saw. He was their child and they were afraid that Hitler would come back from the grave and harm the child.
I said to them, ‘You cannot do this; you cannot inflict the pain of history on this child.’ I got the family medical help and found the boy a good school. I thought the Second World War was over, but it will never be over for this family. I felt like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. This event knocked me off my horse; I picked myself up and knew I had to change. I went back to my church; I needed to get back in touch with the source of all love.
I could not change history, but I could help heal it. Some say after mastering the winds, the tides and gravity we shall harness for God the energies of love and then for the second time in history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.