30th Sunday In OT: Ex 22.20-26; I Thes 1.5-10; Matt 22.34-40
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation
I want to conduct an experiment tonight. Let’s see how obedient you are! I command you to stand. I command you to clap your hands. I command you to say hello to the people around you. I command you to sit. I command you to love one another. What a bizarre command! Loving one another is not as easy as standing, clapping, saying hello, and sitting, is it? Surely, loving is a behavior. It is something we can do. It is something we do everyday. But it doesn’t seem to be that sort of thing that can be commanded, something that we can be ordered to do.
We are commanded not to kill, not to covet or steal what is not ours, not to commit adultery, not to lie, not to dishonor the Lord’s name. We are commanded to worship no other god but the Lord. To honor our mother and father. To keep the Lord’s day holy. These make sense to us as basic commands, orders for a life of holiness. But what does it mean for us to love God and to love our neighbor? If the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments, then I think it is reasonable to say: we had better get this right!
What Jesus does here is nothing less than astonishing. Basically, he takes a lawerly question—which of the 248 observations and 365 prohibitions of the Law is the greatest?—and says that what is fundamental, what is absolutely bottomline about the Law and the Prophets is that we love our God like a father and that we love our neighbors like we love ourselves. In this one short answer, Jesus fulfills the Law of Stone with the Law of the Heart. He moves the center of our moral lives from legal compliance to loving obedience, from mere procedural observation to perfection in charity.
From the Law carved on the tablets to the Law carved into our hearts, Jesus orders our moral lives to the Divine Love of the Father for His Son in the Holy Spirit. As members of the Body of Christ we participate in the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity, loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with them loving everyone else as we love ourselves and our own. In charity—works of mercy, acts of compassion, labors of love—we show the world the love of the Blessed Trinity for us, for all of His creation, and we bring to perfection, to completion everything that He has made us to be. Not just good boys and girls. Not just morally pure robots. But truly free, truly liberated men and women who celebrate their slavery to God’s will. The virtue of charity—the good habit of loving God and neighbor—literally makes your will holy, that is, charity divinizes your will, makes your will God’s will and you flourish as a creature growing closer and closer to the Father.
Sorry about that. I was channeling Thomas Aquinas there for a minute or two. But I think it is vitally important that you understand that your moral life is not simply a matter of crossing all your moral “T’s” and dotting all your moral “I’s.” There is more at stake here than being good boys and girls, behaviorally perfect persons. Certainly, being good behaviorally is important. I think it would be terribly difficult to behave badly and to love God and neighbor at the same time. But do you understand that your moral life, that is, your life in Christ, is not given to you by God b/c you behave well? Your ability, your need to act with charity, to love God and neighbor, to be compassionate to others is God’s gift to you for your use in the service of His greater glory. We are graced with the need to praise, to thank, to bless the Lord!
Jesus says that you are to love God will all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. You are to love God from the very center of your being, with everything that you are. With your heart you will love God as the image and likeness of God. With your soul you will love God with the breath He breathed into your body at your creation. And with your mind you will love God with His gift to know His Truth, His Goodness, and His Beauty.
None of this is possible without God giving you a share in His Divine Life, a piece of the life of the Blessed Trinity. You have done nothing to deserve it, nothing to merit it. Nor can you. It is a gift. Freely given. That is love. The freely given gift of living with God here and now. You live a truly liberated, truly freed moral life when you act out of this freely given gift of the Divine Life.
And Jesus wants you to understand that you live the Divine Life more perfectly when you love us as you love yourself. Now, what does this mean for you, for us tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.? At the very least it means that you do not think of the rest of us as tools for your use, as instruments for your work or toys for your play. You do not act as if we are here merely to benefit you or to serve your pleasure. It means that you look at us as fellow creatures, images of God, likenesses of the Trinity, and you think of us and treat us as the divinely gifted, much-loved children of the Father that you and we are. It means that you and we must move beyond the relatively easy moral life of stony laws and come to live fully, perfectly in the much more challenging life of love, imitating our Lord in His works of mercy, receiving the Holy Spirit with joy, and becoming models for all believers.
You stood, you clapped, you said hello to your neighbors, and you sat. Will you love too? It is a bizarre command. Not at all what we expect to hear from Jesus. Of course, we expect to hear that we should love God and neighbor. We don’t expect to hear this as a command, an order! Jesus commands it of us b/c He gives us what we need to obey. He gives us what we need to love God and each other. He gives us the only thing we need: Himself. He gave Himself once for all on Calvary. He will give Himself to us again tonight in the Sacrifice of the Altar, the sharing of His Body and Blood in thankgiving. He is what we need for the perfected moral life. He is all we have. Love Him with everything that you are—your heart, your soul, your mind. And love us, all of us, be Copycats of Christ, and give yourself for us. With service, with prayer, with treasure, with your very body, sacrifice—make holy in giving over—what God has given you first: your life for us.
That’s moral perfection, that’s a life of love.