WHEN IS LOVE REALLY LOVE? HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

LOVE GOD N NEIGHBOUR

Have you experienced love before? What does it seem to love or to be loved? Is there fake and real love? What is love? Where is love? How is love? Is love what we feel; that is affection? Remember that feelings fade but love never dies (1 Cor.13:8). Is love equivalent to likeness? Remember likes often turn to dislikes! What actually is love and when is love real? Let us reflect on these and more issues connected with love.

On the 14th of April 1912, the greatest maritime tragedy in sailing history occurred with the R.M.S Titanic. The sea vessel was the largest at the time with state of the art accompaniments which included aboard gymnasium, swimming pool, restaurants and park. The passengers in the epoch-making voyage were the exclusively rich at the time who wanted to be reckoned with the first voyage of one of the best from White Star Line. There were also few poor and lucky folks who were emigrants to North America who got free tickets. In all, there were more than 2,224 passengers on board.

With sixteen watertight compartments in a 1/6 mile long hull, the captain Edward John Smith made a pre-voyage boast that “not even God could sink the Ship”.(Of course God does not sink ships he rather saves them). The Titanic left Southampton to New York for her first sail on the historic 10th of April 1912.

While screen playing the story as a movie, James Cameron created two characters that made the movie “Titanic” to get universal acclaim. Hence as the Ship began her journey, fate brought about the meeting of two young people who later became love birds. Rose was of the super-rich class and was by family arrangement to marry a man from another rich family while Jack was one of the poor lucky emigrants heading to North America to search for better living. As the interaction between Rose and Jack grew, they came to connect and eventually fell in love.

An hour before midnight on the 14th of April 1912, amidst a starry moonless night, the Titanic collided with an iceberg which the crew noticed late in the midst of late night merriment. The formidable Ship broke into severally pieces while letting in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean water to engulf the Vessel. Unfortunately, rescue came a bit late and there were few lifeboats. Those in the first class were evacuated first which would have made it possible for Kate to have the option to escape death leaving Jack behind but she could not. She preferred to go through it all with Jack.

They struggled together to survive the raging freezing ocean water. At last there was just a platform left for them to hold unto. Rose clung unto it on top while Jack had his entire body inside the grisly cold water. He kept on encouraging Rose to hold and never to give up. Before a rescue could come, Jack was entirely frozen and died. Rose was eventually rescued!

While recounting what happened that eventful night after many years as an old woman, Rose said that she could only remember that a young man, out of love that she could not describe, gave up his life so that she could live. If we are asked to describe in one word what Jack did for Rose, the most fitting word would be sacrifice! The word sacrifice itself has a lot to do with love. To love one must let go something that is precious and that entails making a sacrifice. So to define love we must keep our eyes on sacrifice.

In the First Reading today (Deut.6:2-4), we are presented with the instructions given by God to the Israelites. Among other things God said: “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might”.

If we examine the above instruction very closely, we will discover some pertinent points. First and foremost it was a command. Some translations would say: “You MUST love the Lord your God…”  To show the seriousness of the instruction it began by summoning them to HEAR; to pay attention; to LISTEN. Furthermore, this love of God is to be done with the fullness of three important personal effects:

  • With all your heart: The heart is mentioned up to a thousand times in the whole of the bible. In Hebrew it is known as lebab and in Greek it is known as The heart is the seat of physical, emotional, and moral activities. In fact people are known to be good or bad from the point of view of their hearts. In the gospel of Matthew (15:18-20) our Lord Jesus Christ mentioned that it is not what goes into someone that defiles the person but what goes from inside; that is from the heart. It is from there that all evil proceeds. Loving God with all our hearts means that we allow our hearts to be God-full, leaving no space for any other thing. It means giving God our hearts
  • With all your soul. The soul is the most important aspect of the human person that survives after the death of the body. It is often used interchangeably with life. In Genesis (2:7) we are told that God breathed on man after making him from the dust of the earth and he became a living soul. Our soul represents everything about us. Without the soul we are no more. To love God with all our soul means submitting our entire being to God.

 

 

  • With all our might: Might has a lot to do with strength; not just physical strength but also spiritual strength. In the book of Judges (6:12) Gideon was greeted as “mighty man of valour”. In Ephesians (6:10) Paul advised saying: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”. Loving God with all our might means channelling all our physical and spiritual strength to God.

From what we have above, we can clearly see that loving God with all our heart, soul and might means sacrificing everything about us to God. A practical example of giving all these to God was the action of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan.3:1ff). For the sake of their love for God, they were ready to lose everything including their lives however, God gave them back what they offered and even more.

In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 12:28-34) we discover that the instruction about love continued. One of the Scribes came to our Lord Jesus Christ and wanted to know which of the commandments could be the first. That is the most important of all. The man could be representing the men and women of his time (and of our time too) who were (are) confused as to what could be the most important of the commandments.

The Scribe who came to Jesus Christ wanted him to give preference to one of the commandments over and above others. May be as a Scribe he had been confronted with the same question or he wanted to size the opinion of our Lord to know the extent he knew the law. In whichever way, the response our Lord gave was indeed very remarkable. He quoted for him the passage we examined in the First Reading (Deut.6:2-4) about loving God and concluded with a passage in Leviticus (19:18) which says: “Love your neighbours as yourself”. In essence our Lord is of the view that the greatest commandment is the commandment of LOVE.

From what we have above, our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the two dimensional expression of love: to God and to our fellow human beings. In any case, it will be pertinent to examine how we can achieve these. The love of God is not achieved by saying it: “I love God”. It begins first from knowledge of God. The book of Hosea (4:6) says that “My people perish for lack of knowledge!” It is very clear and undisputable that you cannot love what you do not know! That could be fantasy, lust or infatuation. From knowledge and communication, you connect. That is the due process to love. Love seeks to express itself in selfless giving; an example is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us. A selfish person cannot love effectively because his/her self-interest will always block the way to reaching out to others.

Love strictly seen is the seed of every good thing. Love is the reason why Jesus Christ came into the world (Jn 3:16), love is the reason why he preached and worked miracles (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Love is the reason why he went to the cross to die (Rom 5:8). Love is the reason for our salvation. Love answers all questions! Love is the only thing that can decide our fate after leaving this world. Love is a seed which every right thinking Christian must always sow.

Part of the reason why love as a phenomenon seems to be hard to define is that it is another name for God and God is not easy to define or describe. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”. No wonder then St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:7) said that love conquers all things; this means that everything is subject to love which is God.

To love is not optional as most of us think. It is a commandment which carries a lot of consequences. In John (13:34) our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I give you a new commandment Love one another as I have loved you”. It also identifies who we are: “If you love one another everyone will know that you are my disciple” (John 13:35). Love is not based on conditions or conveniences. For some people their love is seasonal: the season of abundance; when things are going fine. The litmus test for love are critical times like the one Rose and Jack experienced at the Titanic tragedy and the love Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had for God to the extent of marching into to the burning furnace.

Today our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the assignment to examine our love quotient. Do we love just by words of mouth, just by flowers, paintings, writings, messages and others materials gifts or do we practice and actualize love by our selflessness! Love is really love when it is selfless and sacrificial!

Happy Sunday and blessed week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com).

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