Through Our Neighbours: We Must find, Worship, and Love God!
Readings: 1st: Ish 22, 20-26; Ps 17, 2-4. 47. 51; 2nd: 1Thes 1, 5-10; Gos: Mtt 22, 34-40
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the 30th Sunday of ordinary time. As we gradually draw closer to the end of the year 2014, and the churches liturgical calendar (year A), once again as ever before, the church reminds us of the most important theological virtue in life – Love. In a most special way today, Jesus gives us the two dimensions of love; the vertical – love of God, and the horizontal – love of neighbour. When these two dimensions are perfectly harmonized or synchronized then, a Christian can conveniently say to self, I have loved well. The two are so perfectly interwoven to the extent that as Christians we are left with no choice between the two.
A very brief story captioned: “Love thy Neighbour – A Beautiful Lesson” by an unknown author posted by Priya Sher on her blog on July 3, 2012 goes thus: Once there lived a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year his corn won a prize from the state fair. When he was interviewed on how he grew the wining crop. It was discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours. When he was asked: “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” The farmer responded: “Do you not know that the wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.” The farmer was very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbor’s corn also improves. Priya comments: “So it is with our lives. Those who choose to live in peace must help their neighbours to live in peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well too. For the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.” This is absolutely right because it is through our neighbours that we find, worship and love God, and when we find God we find our own peace and love too.
In the first reading of today, God through Moses warns us as he did the Israelites against any oppression of widows, the poor, strangers and the weak: “You must not oppress the stranger or molest him…not be harsh with the widow or with orphans.” Of course, God reminds us that such acts as we unfortunately find in our society today are tantamount to bringing down his wrath upon the oppressor. The lesson here therefore, is that we must deal with others kindly, justly and lovingly as we would prefer ourselves to be dealt with and loved by both God and others. God hates oppression and injustice especially against the weak and the poor. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians community of their former status as idol worshipers and how they were librated through the power of the good news. While their liberation was a sign of God’s love for them, their acceptance of the good news was a sign of their love for God. Paul thus, raised their hope and encouraged them to per due in love and hold on to it until the coming of the Lord.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes posed Christ yet another “difficult” question: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” As usual, this was in a bid to test him. However, instead of faltering in, or messing up the Law of Moses, Jesus gave us the résumé of the magna carta of love. A close look at Jesus’ response today reveals that Jesus presents us first with the vertical dimension of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with your entire mind.” It is very important to understand here that loving God with all of one’s mind, body and soul entails a lot of sacrifice, and of course, a lot of humility. Loving God is the most important perquisite for being god-like and going to heaven. The second dimension of love is the horizontal, which is: “You must love your neighbour as yourself?” This is pretty more difficult than the first because, we neglect and take it for granted so much by thinking that we can love just God alone, and enough without our neighbours. However, in actual sense, the best way of expressing our love for God is through the way we deal with our neighbours. This is because, life is relational and humans being gregarious must relate well and positively with others. We must affect others positively in order to love God well. This is why the scripture says: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jhn 4, 20).
It is baffling to note that most Christians in spite of spending the whole day in the church are never in good terms with those they live with, in the same house, compound or neighborhood. In matters of love, charity must begin at home, with your neighbour, with your friends and those around you. When we love these, invariably, we love God first, in whose image and likeness they were created, and within whom God dwells. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10, 25-37) becomes very important here. The Samaritan recognized Christ and God in the poor man brown-beaten by mobs. He loved the God he saw in this helpless fellow and attended to him. In like manner, we are called upon today to see God in our neighbours, love him in our neighbours, and adore him in our neighbours. So our love for God must be manifested in and through our neighbours. For instance, if you love to serve God as a priest and decide to give up every worldly gain, you must express this love through service to humanity. This is what Jesus means. The two dimensions of love are not contra or opposed to each other. Also, at the base of all our actions towards our neighbours, the motivating force must be love. This is why Saint Augustine of Hippo says: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given you; love, and do whatever you will. Whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love you must spare. Let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” However, it is important not to misconstrue or misunderstand this saying of St Augustine. It does not mean plunging into the dark side of life protected by some vague hazy feeling of “luvvy duvvy” goodness and certitude, all shall be well, or that the world is a bed of roses. Instead, it means that, it takes love to be charitable, love to be merciful, love to be faithful to God and his mission towards humanity, love to reach out to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the oppressed, the weak, the sick, and the homeless. It takes love to be humble, patient and kind. In fact, it takes love to be lovable and godly. So this Sunday, knowing that on own our own we cannot love enough, let us join the psalmist in making this profession of love to God from whom we derive the strength to love our neighbours as our selves: “I love you Lord, my strength!”
Peace be with you all!!