Love Your Neighbor

In Reflections and Homilies by Deacon ScottLeave a Comment

Homily on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Exodus 22:20-26, Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51, 1 Thessalonians 1:5C-10, Matthew 22:34-40

My homily at the 5:00 Mass today at Holy Ghost Church.

Audio Recording

In today’s gospel Jesus is asked by a scholar of the law which of the more than 600 commandments was the most important? He answered without hesitation:

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.

Jesus then continues to answer the question by saying that there is another commandment that is so closely tied to the first commandment that the first can not be followed without following this second commandment. He says:

The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

In Luke’s gospel we have a similar account of Jesus being asked by a lawyer what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied by asking him what is written in the law, to which the man answers that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind; and you must love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus is pleased with his answer and tells him that if he does these two things he will live, he will have eternal life. But the lawyer, seemingly trying to justify himself – perhaps because he struggled with loving his neighbor as himself – asks Jesus who is his neighbor? Jesus answered his question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling this story, Jesus asked him who of the three characters of the parable was neighbor to the half dead man. The lawyer answered that it was the third man, the Samaritan who showed MERCY to him. Jesus agreed and told him to go and do likewise.

Why does Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, the Savior of the world, tell us today that these are the two greatest commandments? It’s because they are the commandments of LOVE and MERCY, and therefore the most important. Following God’s other commandments without loving him with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind is basically a waste of time. Going through the motions of being a religious person is without virtue if we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

Simply following religious practices without love for our neighbor is like being a Pharisee who loved the laws more than the CREATOR of the laws. Just because we come to Mass, say grace before our meals and pray an Our Father before going to sleep each night doesn’t guarantee we’ll go to heaven. If we do these things without loving God with every ounce of our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves, they’re done in vain. Being a Christian is so much more than simply observing religious practices.

Consider Paul’s familiar instruction to the Corinthians, often read at weddings, about how loving God and neighbor is absolutely essential above EVERYTHING ELSE when he writes:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM NOTHING.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I GAIN NOTHING!

Our God is love. Love is his very essence. He loves everything and everyone he has ever made. We simply would not exist unless he loved us into being and sustained us with his love.

Here’s the MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER. If we love God with all our heart, our soul and our mind, then WE WILL LOVE WHAT HE LOVES and WE WILL DO WHAT HE DOES. This is why the two great commandments are so closely intertwined. Love of God and love of neighbor.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend about my ministry to the homeless. Many of you know that I lead a group of 40-50 people who bring food to the homeless and the poor at the Knox Area Rescue Ministries’ courtyard, just a few blocks from here. We serve 480 hot dogs, chips, snacks, coffee and hot chocolate on a Saturday morning once a month.

My friend asked me how I brought myself to be among these people, people he found to be repulsive. He continued by saying that he wished he could understand just how anyone could get themselves into the situation of being homeless. In his mind, there was clearly something wrong with them to be living on the street. After all, if they just got a job everything would be ok. To his way of thinking, they must be lazy and it’s their own fault that they are in the situation they’re in. He said he could never see himself ministering to “these people.”

I told him I did it because God loves them and he expects me to love them too. I minister to the homeless because I see Christ in their faces, in their eyes. I encounter Jesus when I serve him in the poor. This is why I do it, because I want to see all people the way Jesus sees them. He just shook his head and said that while he respected my ministry, he could never see himself doing this. Jesus is right here among us in his poor and this friend just can’t imagine coming to encounter him there because of his preconceived notions about why the homeless are homeless. They are repulsive to him and he just can’t get past that. So sad, so sad.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus also commands us to love our neighbors who are aliens. Here God instructs us:

You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

While this was written to the Israelites, it is absolutely relevant to us today. While the word “alien” is translated as “stranger” in the RSV translation of the Bible, I happen like the term “alien,” as it seems so relevant to the whole matter of how we view and treat immigrants today, legal or illegal. Especially illegals.

Do we only see the people who have come to this country illegally as lawbreakers deserving of deportation or punishment? Or do we see them as our neighbors, as children of God who are loved by God and deserve compassion and kindness, regardless of the circumstances of their entry into the United States? Are we able to view these children of God with the love and compassion Jesus has for all people as we struggle with the complex problem of how to best structure and enforce our immigration policies?

May I suggest that we look at the problem of illegal immigration with the understanding that the Gentiles were not the original people of God. And guess what? All of us here today are Gentiles, aliens to whom God lovingly extended his mercy, sending his only son to save us, and adopting us as his CHILDREN, promising that we, too, would inherit the Kingdom of God.

Should we not be equally compassionate to those among us who are aliens within our country? Should we not be merciful to them as God has been merciful to each of us? Let us remember that those here among us illegally are loved by God. Let us love them as he loves them.

As we come forward to receive Jesus in the Eucharist this evening, let us ask him to help us to love those who are poor, homeless, or persecuted in the same way he loves them. To help us love those who annoy us, those who repulse us, those who have broken the law, those who think differently than we do, those whose faith is different than ours, and those who adopt a lifestyle we know is sinful. If we truly love God, we must also love EVERYONE. Why? Because because HE LOVES EVERYONE. We must love who God loves. No exceptions, no excuses.

Pray today, and every day, that we will all receive the grace to encounter the world with the mind of God, loving him with all our hearts, our souls and our minds and loving our neighbors as ourselves. As Jesus tells us today, the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

Faithfully observing these two great commandments is the key that opens the door to the Kingdom of God.

God bless you.

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