The Pharisees tried to test Jesus – to trip him up once again. Last week we heard the question about paying the census tax. The trap was perfect - say yes and risk being accused of being a traitor by the anti-Roman zealot party. Say no and risk being accused by the Romans of fomenting insurrection. Say nothing and be accused by all of being a coward. They thought they had the perfect trap. But Jesus turned the trap around with a few simple words. Pay to Cesar what belongs to Cesar, and to God what belongs to God.
This week the test was this question – “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” There were 613 laws in the Old Testament that pious Jews followed. If Jesus answered by lifting out one law in particular then he could have been enmeshed in endless debate, discredited by denying an article of faith, and accused of heresy. They could have finished him right there.
Once again, Jesus did not fall into their trap. Jesus indicated that all of the law and all of the prophets can be summarized in two verses of the law. He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when he says: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The love of God and of neighbor is the true fulfillment of all of the law and the prophets. Jesus never abolished the law and the prophets. Instead he fulfilled them and established the new covenant - the new law that we live within the Church today. This gives us pause to consider how we love God how we love our neighbor. Jesus says to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.”
This love isn’t merely some warm fuzzy tingly feeling. Love is first and foremost a series of decisions of the will. To love God is to commit our emotions, our eternal soul, and our intellect to God. Everything depends on this.
Now, there are lots of ways that we express our commitment to God. Sacred Scripture tells us about many ways to practice love of God and neighbor. Jesus said this in the gospel of John; “if you love me you will keep my commands.” Today, I want to share five commitments we can make to express our love of God.
Prayer from the heart. A personal commitment to daily prayer means that we are not too busy to say to God every day that we love him. Whether it is the daily rosary, or bible readings, prayer groups, or other devotions, we are all called to an intimate communion with God through prayer. So today, let us love God with all of our heart through renewed commitment to prayer.
The Mass. The Mass is the perfect prayer of Word and Sacrament that strengthens us in holiness. A personal commitment to Mass each Sunday and on Holy Days of obligation is vital. An ongoing commitment to daily Mass is powerful. Many people who come to daily Mass say that the Mass is the hinge for living a holy life. Let us love God with all of our soul through the Mass.
Confession. A regular habit of sacramental confession, even monthly, is a powerful way to show God our love through expression of sorrow for our sins. All of us, every single one of us, would benefit from monthly confession. Let us love God through turning away from sin.
Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome once said this; “knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ.” Therefore we can also say that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. Let us love Jesus through devoting our intellect to praying with scripture and studying it. Let us love God with all our mind through devotion to Sacred Scripture.
Fasting. Denying our appetites from time to time, whether it be food, television, coffee, computers, or anything else, is a wonderful way to empty ourselves so that we can be filled by the Holy Spirit. It orients our bodies through discipline to the Lord. Let us love God with all of our strength through fasting.
These commitments are powerful. They are great expressions of love of God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These commitments have strengthened Christians over the centuries to practice love through acts of service to our neighbor. Some of these works are well known, like Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta. And so many more are unknown. Like those who established hospitals, orphanages, and missions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted, and so many other works of mercy. There are countless small acts of kindness in our own community that reflect love for God and for neighbor.
Each person who professes belief in Christ stakes that belief on a decision to love. This means of course, that we also make commitments to loving service.
The first reading points out God’s deep concern for the most vulnerable among us, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. It is the same today as it was then.
-- The stranger today would be immigrants and migrant workers, especially the undocumented. As a group they are vulnerable and weak. Our measure of society is whether or not we choose to welcome and love the stranger.
-- The widow today would be all those people who are bereaved, and who are vulnerable and weak. Our measure of society is whether or not we choose to console and love the widow.
-- The orphan today would be all those children, unborn and born, who are at risk. Our measure is whether or not we welcome and love the orphan.
Sociological studies show us something important about these three groups. Poverty within these groups is much higher than other groups in society. Except in those special places where the community chooses to love them and care for their needs. Then their situation becomes better. Redemption is made tangible through compassionate care.
The Pharisees asked a question to test Jesus. But once again Jesus turned the tables on them. For in the end Jesus asks this question to each of us – do we love God and our neighbor? Jesus invites us to follow his plan of love. He is the one who delivers us from the sin and death, from the day of wrath, and leads us to eternal life. Let us choose once again to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.