Today in our gospel we see Jesus surrounded by Pharisees. They were somewhat like hostile reporters hustling a political candidate. Everyone was shouting out questions. A lawyer comes forward and asks, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” It was 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, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Nothing surprising there. The Jews knew all of this well. But, what startles them is a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
It startles them because Jesus proclaims that this second commandment is like the first. Loving your neighbor is like loving God. It disturbs them because for Jesus the neighbor is the despised Samaritan, the idolatrous Gentile, the enemy. It alarms them because Jesus weds this commandment to the first, 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. Jesus made enemies of the powerful because He put compassion above tradition, love above law and people above things and intuitions. But, Jesus does not just leave the question there. Later on, He would elaborate even further.
Recall the Last Supper, He is surrounded by his disciples. 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 and grew up in a small village where everyone knew His every secret, except 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. He was hungry and thirsty with no place to lay His head.
Each word, each gesture was shaped of love and all of this crowned by the last great act of love, crucifixion. No greater love than this to lay down your life for your friend or for an enemy. Even crucifixion was not enough. He never stops giving, giving His very self. How many times have you heard these 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 to do that 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.
How do we get to know God? First, we have to talk to Him, 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 to 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. We might ask when it will end and what effect will all this horror have on our world and our culture?
Let me read 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 the man from the government. They had both been in Auschwitz. They somehow had survived, they had married, they got to the US and 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 whole 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.”
The social worker then wrote, “I felt like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. This event knocked me off of my horse. I picked myself up and knew I had to change. I went back to my church because 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 the history of the world, Humanity will have discovered fire.