OPTION 2: St. Bernard said: “The greatest measure of love is to love without measure.”
Today’s readings especially on the gospel we reflect on the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. These two great commandments are the foundation of the entire law and the prophets. And sum up our sole purpose in life, that is, to love. In the first reading, the Book of Exodus teaches us on how to love our neighbor: not to molest or oppress an alien; not to wrong any widow or orphan; if you lend money, do not act like an extortioner by demanding interest; if you take neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it. And the second reading, St. Paul talks about the Thessalonians turned from false gods to worship the one true God.
Actually for the past few weeks we have been reflecting on the Pharisees, the Jewish elders and the scribes who placed the law above all else even mercy. Like for example last Sunday, the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question about paying taxes to Caesar. Caesar here represents the government. This is somewhat an innocent question but it is a trap. We all know that if Jesus would say ‘yes’, the people would resent and reject Him because nobody likes to pay taxes especially to foreign government, the Roman government, who dominated them during that time. On the other hand, if Jesus says ‘no,’ the Pharisees would report Him to the Roman government as a revolutionary person or an insurrectionist. The Roman government would then arrest Him and put Him into prison. But Jesus did not bite their trap on Him. He asked a coin use to pay taxes and asked whose picture is on it. Then Jesus said this popular response, which today some use as an argument in favor of the separation of Church and state, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.”
Here Jesus confirms that there are two levels of authority, God and state. That we have dual citizenship, citizens of heaven as well as of the earth but we have only one master, God, the highest authority. All powers and authorities come from Him. He is our Lord and there is no other one. It is right to give Him all glory, honor, praise and obedience.
The state, that is the government, is also to be honored and obeyed. It is because civil authority is part of God’s plan. It comes from God and it serves His purpose. Concrete example is when Jesus was before Pilate, he acknowledged Pilate’s authority as God-given (cf. John 19:10ff). And so we can say that respecting civil authority is to cooperate in the plan of God but in what way? Alexander Lacson in his book 12 Little Things we can do for our Country said about these little things we can do for our government like: following traffic rules and other laws; paying taxes to the government; throw your garbage properly; during election, do your solemn duty; don’t buy smuggled goods and so on. So let us pray for those in public office that they may use their authority rightly and properly.
In today’s gospel, again they strike back at Jesus through a lawyer by asking Him the greatest commandment. Actually, there are 613 commandments which the Pharisees had identified in the Torah: 248 of them are positive commandments and 365 negative commandments. So which of these 613 is the greatest? The Jews already knew which is the greatest, that is, to love God above all else but Jesus’ answer goes far beyond the question and includes love of neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor must go together. St. John’s first letter says that we cannot have one without the other (cf. 1John 4:20-21). Jesus never says that the love of God above all and the love of neighbor as yourself are the same thing. But, rather, they are two sides of the one coin; they are inseparable from each other. Like for example, when a father works hard to support his family; when a mother wakes up early to prepare breakfast for her children; when a son or daughter supports an ailing parent and so on and so forth, these are acts of love to our neighbors that we offer to God as well.
For the first greatest commandment, Jesus quotes the Book of Deuteronomy and stressed that, above all, we must love God. Then he quotes the Book of Leviticus an equally important law: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
To love God above all sounds great but are we aware how often we violate the first important commandment? Too often, things come first in our life when we say, ‘family first,’ or ‘earning enough money first,’ or ‘work first.’ This is fine and good but where does God come in? I’m sure not in the first place but in the last.
Every Sunday we are gathered in our church in order to pray and worship God. During the offertory, according to the homily of a priest that I read, we offer our money in the collection basket but we offer too, our pains, our hurts, our sacrifices, the struggles of the past week and so on.
But we learn from the Old Testament that the chosen people must give a tithe of ten percent to God. The Book of Leviticus says: “One tenth of all the produce of the earth or the fruits of trees, belongs to Yahweh…. In all tithes of flock and herd, the tenth animal of all that pass under the herdman’s staff shall be a thing dedicated to Yahweh,” (27:30-32).
In the New Testament, ten percent is never enough; we should give to God one hundred percent. Christ didn’t say we should give ten percent of our heart, of our soul, of our mind, of our strength to God; He says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind,” (Mt 22:37).
This does not mean that we should stay in the church for twenty four hours a day, but rather, to put the love of God in everything that we do. in everything that we do, put God first; in every decision that we make, put God’s love upon it. St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians (3:23), says: “Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, working for the Lord.”
And what about our love of neighbor, how do we concretely express this? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us that any person who crosses our way and is in need is our neighbor.
It happens that today is World Mission Sunday. Let us honor and give thanks our missionaries: lay people, priests and religious who go to other parts of the world in order to bring the message of Jesus about God’s love and justice to all people. Sad to note that we mourn the death of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian PIME missionary who was murdered last October 17, 2011 in Arakan, North Cotabato. His only fault was that of proclaiming the gospel about God’s love and justice. He proclaimed God’s love by taking care of the indigenous people in that place who were forsaken and used by the government and us. He proclaimed God’s justice by advocating against mining in that place. We condemn the senseless act. Here was a man who left his home, country and family in Italy for the sake of the gospel, braving deprivation, loneliness, persecution, and even death.
So for us, we are missionaries too, let us check today, according to the homily of Fr. Jerry Orbos SVD, if we have in our lives the three ingredients of a true faith, which are: Koinonia (communion with God and community); Diakonia (service and apostolate); and Kerygma (proclamation of the gospel by word and example). In other words, a true Christian is not only prayerful, but must also be helpful and sharer of the gospel. True prayer must bear fruit in real life, and real life must in turn lead to deeper prayer. Here in the Diocese of Marbel, let us build a worshipping, witnessing and serving community of the disciples of Jesus.
See Today’s Readings: Cycle A