In a certain kingdom, a particular man who was known to be a troublemaker went beyond the boundary between him and another man’s farmland during the planting season. The man he intruded into his farmland was known to be a peace loving man and he allowed the troublemaker to have his way. In the next planting season, the troublemaker went further into the other man’s farmland and it became clear that he was actually looking for his trouble. The peaceful man spoke kindly to him about the intrusion but he instead claimed ownership of the whole area. When this situation continued, the peaceful man reported the matter to the king and a day was fixed for the two parties to appear before the king’s court for a possible resolution.
On the fateful day of the hearing, the troublemaker left early to the King’s court with his family and borrowed witnesses. The peaceful man on the other hand left his house shortly before the appointed time. On his way, he saw thick smoke arising from a compound and it was obvious that nobody was at home. The domestic animals were getting choked up and harassed by the thick smoke as they cried out loud in their various fashions. More so, fire was burning inexorably from a hut in the compound that seemed to be the kitchen. The man instantly ran into the compound with his escorts to fight the ensuing inferno. They used all the helpful materials around including water to stop the fire and they also rescued the livestock from what would have been a “burnt sacrifice”.
By the time they were done, they were all coloured black by smoke and they were clearly late for the hearing at the King’s court. Our peacemaker who was now having a burnt hand from the fire-fighting encouraged his escorts to come along with him as the king and the court attendants would be waiting. They got there when the king was about to dismiss the assembly and to send some strong-worded statements of reproach to the man for being insensitive to time and for being uncourteous to royalty. The King and other people at the court were surprised to see that the peaceful man and his escorts were all covered with black smoke.
When the king asked the man what happened, the peaceful man quietly reported that as he was on his way to the King’s court, he saw thick smoke arising from a compound which indicated the presence of fire and discovering that no one was around, he went to rescue the animals and save the houses there from what would have been a holocaust. The King was touched by his story and asked him whose house it was. The man instantly pointed at the troublemaker who was already feeling like a winner as the peaceful man came late and dirty. The king was shocked and said: “I would not even do that even if I am given millions and not for someone who is after my land!” The peaceful man replied and said: “I would also not do so if not for the sake of love!”
It was St. Paul who among other things said that: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Cor.13:7). This Sunday has all it takes to be called “Love Sunday!” In the First Reading (Exodus 22:21-27) God gave specific instructions to the Israelites and these have social and religious significances. They were asked to accommodate and show concern to the poor strangers, widows and orphans or face the wrath of God which includes punishment and death. This shows us the extent to which God’s heart goes out to the less privileged or the needy. This instruction is actually the founding base of the Church’s Social Teaching which among other things advocates for justice, fairness and deep seated option for the poor. In areas of applied ethics we see these resonating with nascent issues in Mercy, Beneficence, and Ethical Assistance (helping the distant needy).
A closer look at the instructions will be helpful. At the beginning of the instructions God told the people not to oppress strangers bearing in mind that they were strangers before. What this is actually saying is that we should always remember where we are coming from. Often times when some of us launch into greatness or find ourselves in better positions, we forget how it was before and the fact that some people are still in that region we left long ago. When we cross the boundary of need into abundance, we don’t give a thought about those who have not crossed. That is why in our world today, some people are living in great wealth while many others are dying in poverty; some people are living while others are merely existing. Today many are throwing food and clothes away while millions go to bed every day without food and innumerable others are naked and exposed to the elements.
Another important aspect of the instruction is where God pledged that when they (the stranger, widow, orphan and needy) cry to Him, He will surely hear their cry. God does not pay deaf ears to the plight and cries of the oppressed. This should be a warning to many who use such people as pawns in their chess board of oppression. However for God to react, they must first cry out to Him. May be God has not responded to your situation because who have not made up your mind to cry out to Him. He says in His word: “Call upon me and I will answer you (Jer.33:3, Psalm 91:15).
The rest of the instructions called for leniency, restitution and compassion. From all indications, God was prescribing the virtue of love for the people in their social interactions especially with those who are of less advantage in the society. In this way, their attitude towards such people would determine what they would receive from God as a reward. Here we can see that love is silently given as a commandment.
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 22:34-40) our Lord gave an evergreen teaching on love. The episode started like many others; the people wanted to catch him on something. For some time now, this has been the case. Last Sunday it was about taxes to Caesar with the script sponsored by the Pharisees and the Herodians. This Sunday it is all about the greatest commandment sponsored by a lawyer. The learned gentleman came with one question: “which is the greatest of the commandment in the law?” We know that God gave Ten Commandment (Ex.20:1-17) and all of them are equal having the same weight and value. The intention was for him to force our Lord Jesus Christ to make a preference in opposition to the rest.
The answer our Lord gave to the lawyer was really a surprising one. He actually went scriptural by bringing together two Old Testament passages:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut.6:4).
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord. (Lev.19:18).
We need to look deeply into our Lord’s response to this important question. In his response, our Lord (drawing from the passages above) said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second commandment is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depends the law and the prophets.
Love is fundamentally difficult to define; try it! So when our Lord talked about loving, he tried to demonstrate how it can come about by indicating that one has to love with ALL of one’s Heart, Soul and Mind. These three represent the three fundamental make-up of the human person: body, soul and mind which further points to the physical, spiritual and mental aspects of each human person. In essence, our Lord was saying that in loving, nothing is left behind; hence everything is given. To love God thus means giving ALL to God. You don’t for instance demonstrate your love for God by just being physically present in Church, there is need for spiritual and mental connection. Loving God does not just consists in saying it; it has to do with living it out in our lives.
One of the most obvious indications of our love for God is shown in what our Lord called the second which is like the first:”You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. In our story today, the peaceful man demonstrated His love for God by fighting the fire that nearly destroyed his enemy’s compound. Some other person would pass by singing songs of worship and praise to God and thinking that God will be happy with him for praising and worshipping Him while someone’s house is on fire. This is how some people often neglect charity and help to those in need around them while making fat donations in the Church in order to be praised not for the sake of the work of God; there are silent donations too and God appreciates them.
Today, the message is very clear and challenging to all. We must at the end of this message ask ourselves if we truly love God with ALL our hearts, souls and minds. We must also ask ourselves if we truly love our neighbour not by saying it, not by writing it, not by singing it but by doing what love commands like the man in our story. Love can only be love when it is tried and tested. Love cannot be real if there is no sacrifice. The lover gives without hoping to receive. You love only when you can give more than you can receive. A typical example is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross for our sins. Obviously we cannot pay for that. He demonstrated his love for His father by what he did for us. God demonstrated His love for us by sacrificing His son (himself).
To love is not optional; it is rather a commandment. Our Lord made it clear in the gospel of John that he is giving us a new commandment that we should love one another as he loved us (John 13:34-35). Another reason why we must love is that God is love. St John captured this very well when he said: “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”.(1 John 4:8).
We shall end this reflection by attempting to solve the arithmetic that formed the theme of our reflection. The statement is:
God + Neighbour × Love. (G+N×L)
God is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore there is a reformulation
Love + Neighbour × Love (L+N×L)
Love + Neighbour = Love Neighbour (L+N=LN)
Love Neighbour × Love = Love (LN ×L =L)
The answer is Love because God is Love and Love conquers all things.
Have a wonderful Sunday and a great week ahead.