In Mark 12:28-34, a scribe comes to Jesus and asks, “which is first of all the commandments?” In a sense, he is asking, “which commandment is the critical one? You know, the thing I should be focused on.” Jesus’ answer is crystal clear. First, love God. Second, love your neighbor. There is no wiggle room in it. He doesn’t just say love God. He says to love God with your heart, your soul and your mind. That is your body, your spirit, and your intellect. Everything that you are is called to love and serve the Lord.
It’s simple, but this gospel convicts me every time I hear it. I think of the TV I watch, and I wonder, “am I loving God in this?” I think of the music I listen too, or the way I spend my time, and I have to measure myself against this simple instruction. Love your God, totally, with your entire being. Am I doing that, or have a siloed him off into a compartment that is separate from the rest of my life? A great check is to walk through your day as if Jesus walked through it with you. Would he have laughed at the show you were watching? What would his reaction be to the websites you visited or the article you reposted? What about the things you said when you lost your temper? How would having Jesus with you have affected your choices?
The reality is Jesus is with us in every moment of our lives. He is fully aware, fully present in every moment of our lives. And, If we want to love him with our entire beings, we need to become more aware of his constant presence. The best way to do that is by growing familiar with his life in us through prayer and the sacraments. By spending time with the Lord, and inviting him into our lives, we become aware that God is not distant. We are not on our own. He is intimate, and he is near. We have no hope to follow Jesus’ command to love him if we do not spend time getting to know and becoming aware of him. If you want to love God, you have to pray. Not once in a while. Not just at meals or at mass. You need to pray every day and throughout each day. St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17.) That means we should be so comfortable in prayer that in every moment we are seeking to be connected to the Lord, and open to his voice in our lives.
Stopping there is tempting. It is easy to think that Christianity is just about my relationship with Jesus. It is tempting to believe that all you need to do is accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior, and work on that relationship, and that’s it. But Jesus cuts that off right here as well. Remember, when asked which commandment is most important he says, first, love God with your entire being. But he doesn’t end there. Second, he says,” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You see, it is not enough to just love God. And, in a sense, it is impossible just to love God and ignore the people around us. God has placed in your life thousands, upon thousands of icons of himself. Each person you encounter is a walking, talking, image and likeness of the Lord. God commands us to treat each person we meet as such. We are not merely to tolerate each other. Jesus does not call us to be polite. He calls us to love the way we would want to be loved. That means when we see someone in need, we act the way we would want someone to move toward us if we were in need. We can quibble about the best way to help someone, but we must agree that the one thing love can never do is ignore.
We must see our neighbors, and we must love them. That sounds so simple, but it’s hard. Most of us are entirely out of practice. It seems daunting, and a little scary. So, we need to practice. A great place to start is your family, the people you live with. Love the people in your family, the way you want to be loved. Practice compassion and presence at home. Then, extend that love to the parish family, the people you go to Mass with each week. The ones who sit around you. Again, it’s a safe place. Get to know the stories of the people you see each Sunday. Step into their mess. Love them. That is a HUGE step, but it can’t end there. Jesus does not say love your family as yourself. Of course, we practice love at home and amongst the family of the Church. We practice so that in love we can go out to the world. We can go out to the grumpy people at Costco, or the guy who stole your parking space. We can go out to the homeless, and to the migrant. We can see God in them, and we can love them as we would want to be loved if we were them. Yes, we can quibble about how that works. We can argue about what the best way to love a person caught in drug addiction is. We can argue about the best way to serve the homeless. We can argue about immigration policy. All that is true, but none of it can be allowed to stop us from loving the people we encounter. None of it can be allowed to prevent us from seeing our neighbors as anything but the image of God that I have been granted the opportunity to reverence.
What is the greatest commandment? Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. Church, imagine if we did? Imagine if we became radical in our love of God and neighbor? I mean that. Just let your mind wander and imagine how the Church living out the radical love of God could change your city. Let that inspire you. Now move. Go. Love
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