30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
In the gospel today, a Pharisee asks Jesus an important question. Though the intention was not good the question was good. He asks ‘which is the greatest commandment?’ We know only ten commandments but the Jews had 613 laws or commandments. To ask which of these 613 laws or commandments is great is a tricky question. Jesus knows their intention and so he goes to the root of these commandments and presents two basic principles that that are behind all these commandments and says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.”
The interesting or important thing to note here is that these two principles or commandments are not new or original to Jesus. They are already there in the old testament. The first was a prayer contained in the sixth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy 6:5 and recited by pious Jews every morning and evening, “Hear this, O Israel, Shema Israel, God is One. You shall love your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind. “The second quotation came from the Book of Leviticus, 19:18,”You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” What is original to Jesus is not even putting them together but summing up the whole of law and prophets or the whole of religion with these two basic principles of life. This is original to Jesus. What is original to him is that he presented them together as two sides of the same coin.
But often throughout the history people considered these two commandments or principles as two separate compartments having nothing to do with each other. Love of God is considered to be different from the love of neighbour. Pharisees and Sadducees stressed the love of God at the cost of love of neighbour so much so that God through the prophets denounced this. “I hate your sacrifices, I have enough of your burnt offering. Instead be good to the poor and hungry. Let justice flow like water and integrity like and unfailing stream (Amos 5/24)
Unfortunately even today there are many who think that ‘love of God’ is different from ‘love of neighbour’. Even today there are many “angels in the church but demons in the house.” I remember the story of a mother-in-law who took pride in scolding the daughter-in-law. One evening daughter-in-law by mistake broke a tea-cup. Mother-in-law had all the opportunity in the world to reprimand her for that. She went on and on till the church bell went. When she heard the church bell, she stopped scolding her suddenly, took her rosary and started walking to the church. Daughter-in law was so impressed that she asked mother-in-law “Mom, you are so nice that you stopped scolding me when you heard the church bell. Mother-in-law said, “ I am going for mass now, I will come back and see your end.” This is what it means to be “an angel in the church and demon in the house.” Many of us who are here can relate ourselves to this at least some times in our lives. Take for example in some places and in some countries peopel will get into the bus to come to church we get crossed with so many in the bus because they stamped our feet, or they sat in the seats reserved for the elderly and disabled. Sometimes we argue with them.
Our love of God does not often flow into our love of neighbour. We consider them as two separate things. But Jesus through today’s gospel says that they are not two separate compartments but two sides of the same coin. If you ask me which side of the coin is more valuable I cannot tell you. People with a heart for God will have a heart for their neighbour.
A journalist visiting Mother Theresa’s home in India watched an attractive young nun dressing the wounds on a man with gangrene in his leg. The journalist was appalled by the wound but was full of admiration for the young nun who seemed to show no disgust as she was cleaning the suppurating wound. ‘I wouldn’t do that for £1,000.’ said the journalist. ‘Neither would I,’ said the nun, ‘I do it for love of God.’
Yes! Dear friends, love of God and love of neighbour are not two independent things. If a tree has to grow tall it has to spread its roots around. The stronger its roots are the taller it can grow. So also, if we have to grow taller in our relationship with the Lord, we need spread our roots around; increase our relationships around. The more you spread your roots the stronger you become and the taller you can grow in your life with the Lord.
God bless you!
Fr. Showreelu Simham