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“The Family of God: Loving Him With All We Are”
October 29, 2017: The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12/ Psalm 1/1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8/ Matthew 22: 34 – 46
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Shema Israel means “listen” and the Jews recited the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One; and you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Jews recited the Shema actually three times a day – in their morning and evening prayer, and before they went to bed. It was in their system and it was familiar to them. However, the Jews missed the essence of what it is to love the Lord with all their heart.
The Shema is not just an obligatory obedience to ceremonies, commandments or rituals. It is loving, coming from our whole being. Remember this rich, young ruler that went to Jesus and asked Him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “You know the commandments...” The ruler said, “I kept all of those from my youth up.” When he said this, Jesus felt compassion for him because He sensed something major was lacking, and Jesus said, to him, “One thing you lack – sell all your possessions and give to the poor.” This made the ruler’s face fall and this disappointed him and he walked away from Jesus.
This tells us that we can obey the commandment, and yet, not have love. We can obey the letter of the commandment, but not the spirit or the essence of it. 1 Corinthians 13 begins with, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” St. Paul is saying, “You can have all the gifts of the Spirit and operate in these gifts, but you can also not have love while operating in them.” You can actually do what Jesus commanded the rich, young ruler – giving all the possessions to the poor, and yet not have love. You can give your body to be burned, and yet not have love. This is saying to us that we can do certain things, but still not have the love inside of us.
I served as a worker of our Church before in the Special Projects Department, and one of the ministries under it was the Ministry to the Poor. I have seen for many years how people do good things – fed them, gave them groceries and relief items. Some would do it out of love, some would perform an obligation. Some would minister, some would just fulfil a duty. You can give to the poor what they need, and yet, trample on their dignity because you think they are lower than you. You can simply pray for them, put your hand on their shoulder, love them and treat them like human beings, and you are fulfilling your ministry better in a fuller sense.
I believe you have seen on the internet some videos on caregivers, especially for the elderlies, who force their patients to respond to them. Forcing them is fulfilling a job or doing something without love. We are not to do a civic job or a profession, but we are to do it in love, so that it becomes ministry. It is duty versus ministry.
God said, “I desire compassion, not obligation. I desire mercy rather than burnt offerings.” We can perform all the temple obligations like the Pharisees did, and yet not have love. We are not supposed to be Pharisees who were experts in keeping the temple, but also experts at looking down on others, especially the sinners. .
The first and the greatest commandment in the Kingdom, according to its very King of kings, Lord of lords is love. Our Christmas song says, “His law is love and His gospel is peace.” The Pharisees believed what Jesus said. In fact, in one narrative, the person who questioned Jesus said, “You are right, Teacher. No other law is higher than loving the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him, “Yes, you are not far from the kingdom because this is what the kingdom is all about.” This is the foundation of the Kingdom, according to its very King.
It is not like how the Jews saw Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David, because their idea of David and the son of David who is the Messiah to come was a military conquistador, a warrior, coming to free us from the oppression of Rome. When they saw Jesus, they thought that it was He until He gave them the Beatitudes. He also told them, “Do you want to topple Rome? If you see one of their centurions and they tell you to walk and carry their stuff for them for one mile, go with them for two miles. Do you want to rule the world? Serve them! Do you want to win over your enemy? If they slap you on the right cheek, offer them the left. If you want to win over a thief, and they steal from your cloak, give them your cloak also.”
The Jews misunderstood the great commandment in the Kingdom because they were nationalistic, political, militaristic and selfish – which is not love. Adam’s mandate was to reign by serving. In Genesis 2:5, the word ‘cultivate’ means to serve. Cultivate and keep is to serve creation. Adam’s sin when he fell was when he started turning to himself and started serving himself. The good news is that the Second Adam came not to be served, but to serve. This is how He reigns.
When Adam was given the commandment, he was first to be a priest and king, that is a priest offering sacrifices to God, serving Him, loving Him; and he was to be king serving the people and loving them. Actually, the great Commandment is not new because it is the same as what God instructed Adam to do: love God first, and then, your neighbor. You cannot love your neighbor if you do not love God first. If we love God, we will love our neighbor.
1 John 4:20 says, “He who does not love his brother whom he sees, cannot love God whom he does not see.” If we have love in our heart, if we have a pure heart, like Jesus promised, we shall see God; we shall see Him in our brother. We shall see Him in our enemy, in our persecutor, in the poor, the least, the lost, the lonely, the sick, the naked, and the prisoner. When we see God in them, we will love our neighbour.
The reason we start with baptism as Christians is because at baptism, the self dies. If the self dies and it is out of the way, then, there remain only God and neighbour to love. We should not forget the reason why we were baptized – the death of old self (self-centered) and birth of new (others-oriented). We eliminate the old self, so only God and neighbor remain to be loved. Then, there will be no room for ulterior motives. Many of us ‘love’ expecting something in return, which should not be the case. God is self-sufficient. God needs nothing from anyone at all. Not that He doesn’t want us to participate in His work, not that He doesn’t make us feel needed, but in reality, He is self-sufficient. So, when He loves, He loves without a motive of something in return.
What does God need from us? All that we need comes from Him. We can love this way – a very selfless love. We are to turn from egomaniacs to neighbor-maniacs with all our heart loving them; with all of our being; with all that we value. The object of our love gets the lion’s share of our time, our attention,our treasure, our presence. We regard them as more important than ourselves. Philippians 2:3 tells us to regard one another as more important than ourselves.
In one Indian establishment, I saw this writing from a speech from Mahatma Gandhi, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work, he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business, he is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him, he is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.” This is in a business setting, but in Christianity, ours is a higher calling because the customer doesn’t really profit us. We should be doing good to them, treating them right, not because they give us business, but because like God, we love without expecting anything in return. This should be our attitude, and this is how we should love, then, we get a greater return.
St. Paul said that people think that the gospel is great gain, but actually, godliness with contentment is great gain, but it has to start with an attitude of not expecting anything in return. This is pure love, just like our Father’s love. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
When Jesus was asked by His disciples, “Who is My neighbour?” He told them the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Israelites looked down at the Samaritan at that time, but it was the Samaritan, not the priest, the Levite or his fellow Jew that helped the beaten man. Our neighbour is anyone – we love indiscriminately. Our neighbour can be a Samaritan to us, an “enemy” or those who hate us. Race, culture, creed, and other orientations should not be barriers against our love. We love those whom we hate, those who hate us. We love those who are marginalized by society although we don’t condone what they are doing. We love them, which can include correcting them. We don’t have this contempt in our hearts; we don’t despise them. We don’t have to agree with them; we just have to love them.
As an assignment, I would like you to think of one person that you don’t like or do not have a good impression of and think, “Why did that impression form in your mind, and worse, in your heart? What did that person do?” Maybe, at the end of the day, we will have the answer of, “I don’t know.” There is absolutely no reason for us to hate anyone because we are sons of our Father who is love. We are not supposed to be haters, but instead to be lovers just like our Father. We love our neighbour, and our neighbour is the worst person in the world; the violest offender.
The other night, I fetched my daughter and our vehicle got a flat tire. I had no tools to fix it, so we were flagging cars to help us. After quite some time, we did get help from three men who assisted us without any agenda at all, without asking anything in return. I thought that maybe, they were Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – the three angels. Then, I immediately remembered having helped somebody who got into an accident at NLEX, and I thought, “It is true. You do unto others what you want others to do unto you.” We are to love without expecting anything in return, but the truth is we do need people. We will find ourselves in a situation where we will need help. Thus, when we have the ability to help, we give it to others with our all.
Think about others. Give preference to them. Moses prayed to God one time, “Don’t kill my people. They may be stubborn and they may be grumblers, but don’t harm them. If You can’t forgive them, kill me instead.” Can we have the same attitude? St. Paul said in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren (those who betrayed him, those who persecuted and beat him), my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites.” This is love; such giving of self.
The gospel today ends, "Sit at My right hand until your enemies are put your feet.” One day every knee will bow and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of God. And all of man’s ways, ideologies and cultures will bend their knee to the way of the King. The way of the King is to love, to serve people. Jesus reigns, as a meek Lamb, with love. He will not come back with a military force of myriads of angels with spears and swords and atomic bombs. He comes back as a meek Lamb. This is how He reigns; this is how He conquers.
We sing, “I will reign with Him through all eternity.” If want to rule, we are to serve. If we want to be great in the kingdom of God, we are to serve, and this is how God reigns. This eternity starts now. It is not to lord over, but to reign by serving in love. And this, my brothers and sisters, is precisely the way it is in the kingdom of our God.