THE LAW OF LOVE
(Exod 22:21-27; 1THes 1:5-10; Matt 22:34-40)
Today, the church reminds us of the most important theological virtue, “love”. Our Gospel celebrates the great commandment of love. It reminds us that the whole of Divine Law can be summed up in our love for God and neighbour. To love our neighbour as God does means that prejudices based on race, religion or colour have to go. The revelation at Mount Sinai prompted a sense of fairness towards others, deeper than specific commandments. Jesus demonstrates a life of utterly unselfish loving, and invites us to make that our guide to life. For St Paul, this imitation of Christ is the core of spirituality.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees posed another difficult question to Christ: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” Of course this was in order to test Jesus. But then what is this law? Law is one of the most important biblical concepts. Law reveals the character and the standards of God, and marks the way in which human beings can express love for God and for each other. But Law also condemns, for no human being except Jesus Christ has ever kept its requirements. The Law reveals something of the righteousness of God.
The Law, even when first given, did not produce righteousness. Instead it revealed human unrighteousness. Through the Law men had the opportunity to discover their true state; to become conscious of the reality of their sin and need. This role of the Law continues today. It is stressed often in the New Testament, as St Paul says: “We know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin” (Rom 3:19-20).
In the Law, Israel had a sharp and clear portrait of the moral character of her God. In the Law, men could see love and righteousness blend, and could understand God’s commitment to do right by all persons. The Law’s revelation of morality also served as a standard by which men could measure themselves. God had announced, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44). The Laws careful delineation of holy behavior let people match their deeds to the standards which God presented as right and good.
In our culture we’re used to dealing with abstract ideas and concepts. “Love,” for instance, is a term we like. Yet for all our familiarity with the abstract, we are likely to misunderstand the real meaning of such terms. If God had only said, “Love,” we might have been hard put to know what to do! The Bible is practical. And so in Scripture God is careful to take abstract ideas and cast them in ordinary situations.
Which is the greatest commandment of the law? Jesus’ response is not to be taken for granted, because, among the numerous precepts of the Hebrew Law, the most important were the 10 Commandments, communicated directly by God to Moses, as the conditions of the Covenant with the people. But Jesus wants to make them understood that without love for God and for our neighbour there is no true fidelity to this Covenant with the Lord. You may do many good things and fulfill many precepts but if you do not have love, this serves no purpose.
It is confirmed by another text in the Book of Exodus, called the “Covenant Code”, where it is said that one cannot adhere to the Covenant with the Lord and mistreat those who enjoy his protection. And who are those who enjoy his protection? The first reading today says: the widow, the orphan and the stranger, the migrant, that is, the most lonely and defenseless people. In responding to those Pharisees who question him, Jesus also tries to help them put their religiosity in order, to distinguish what truly matters from what is less important.
However, linking “love of God and love of neighbor” as the foundation of the whole law and the prophets adds a new dimension and makes very concrete how the commandment is to be lived out. This is the summary of our Christian faith. It appears easy to say but yet difficult to practice. A truly Christian life is rooted in the earth and yet reaches up to the mystery of God through living in love.
The second reading gives the example of the early Christian communities who obeyed the law of love. People were drawn to the Christian faith by the way these people were leading their lives. The word of the good news diffused itself quietly through people admiring the way the Christians lived. The gift of our humanity, savoured and appreciated, can become mirror and window to the mystery of God for ourselves. It can be a more effective means of evangelization than all the hype of religious words that often only confirm the “converted” in their convictions.
Many a times we think that we can love God alone without loving our neighbours. John 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” (1Jn 4:20). These our brothers include the widows, orphans and strangers. Hence, instead of exploiting them we are called to love them.
The best way to express our love for God is through our neighbors. Hence, those who choose to live in peace must help their neighbor to live in peace. Those who choose live well must help others to live well too. The value of one’s life is measured by the lives he touched positively. As true Disciples of Christ, love alone must rule our minds in all we do.
Peace be with you!
Fr Dumlesi Tor