Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
How do you know that someone loves you? It is when they tell you they do? Anyone can say that. Is it when they buy you gifts? Not every gift comes from the heart. It might be from the head. Is it when they want to be around you to the exclusion of others? Maybe they are gaining something for themselves from that closeness.
On the other hand, how do you know that you love God? Is it by your faith tradition, like being a Christian? Identifying with a religion does not mean love for God. Is it by going to Church and praying all the time? No, even Jesus said: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matt 15:8).
Sometimes, we mistake our liking or feelings towards people for love. Sometimes, we also confuse religious activities with love for God. Love is beyond seasonal excitement and activities. When love is genuine, there are no conditions; it comes from a heart of sacrifice, which is the true measure of love.
In the First Reading (Exodus 22:20- 26), God showed that suppressing the poor, widows, and orphans is distasteful to Him. Intending to bring a balance, God speaks out for them with the threat of punishing those who cause harm to them in any way.
If you asked the people of Israel during the time of Moses if they loved God, they would probably say yes. Unfortunately, God does not measure our love for Him based on verbal expressions. Instead, God gauges our love for him through our actions and reactions to those on the margins of society.
The Greatest Commandment
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 22:34-40), a scholar among the Pharisees approached Jesus with a question that came as a test. He asked: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Recall that God did not say that anyone out of the Ten Commandments was more important than others. The silence of God on this could have made scholars at various times bring in their respective interpretations. No wonder we hear about 613 laws drawn from the Ten Commandments.
Last Sunday, a joint team of Pharisees and Herodians wanted to entrap Jesus to give a “yes or no” answer to their close-ended question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caeser or not?” This Sunday, the Pharisee-Scholar wanted Jesus to single out one commandment and make it first among all in the law.
Instead of dealing with the letters of the law, Jesus decided to deal with the spirit behind all the commandments. So, he responded by saying:
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. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Loving God or Loving Neighbor: Which Comes First?
We have much to learn from the Lord’s response to the scholar. First, we need to appreciate our Lord’s exceptional capture of the litany of laws using the phenomenon of love. So, applying love as touching God and neighbors is a sure way of fulfilling all the commandments.
If you asked some Christians which should come first: loving God or loving one’s neighbor, many would surely choose the love of God. But the scripture tells us this:
If anyone says, I love God but hate his brother, he is a liar, for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20).
This passage says we must start from the known before proceeding to the unknown. The best way to show our Love for God is not merely by saying it; talk is cheap. We love God by our actions. Recall that our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14: 15).
In our day and age, many people claim absolute love for God, just like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, but they hate neighbors in the most gruesome ways. We argue that we love God, yet we neglect and suppress others. Most people live in wasteful affluence, while many of their neighbors die in abject poverty, yet they love God and even worship in the same church with the poor and suppressed,
Moving Forward: To Love, Start with Your Neighbor
Jesus said in the Gospel that the greatest and the first commandment is to love God with every faculty, and the second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself, but did you know that truly loving your neighbor qualifies you to love God? That was why he said that the second is like the first!
When God expressed his compassion for the poor, widows, and orphans in the First Reading, he campaigned for love for them. You don’t need to like the poor and those in various positions of disadvantage because of how they appear, talk, or behave, but you can love them.
John Wooden once said, “Next to love, balance is the most important thing.” The worst situation in our world is not hunger, war, and sickness, as many would say, but the absence of the balancing of genuine love for others.
We can change the world if each one of us starts spreading love from our neighborhood. In the end, loving God will be much easier. Love, where it is real, is always active and sacrificial, not beneficial. Recall that our Lord said: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sister, you did to me.” (Matt. 25:40); that is a key to the kingdom of God.
God bless you!