Those of us living in the United States may not have invented the concept of “minimum,” but we certainly have raised it to a ubiquitous art form. We love minimums. The minimum credit card payment. The minimum system requirements to run new software. The minimum wage. The alternative minimum tax. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions. Minimum daily nutritional requirements. Minimum speeds. Minimum ages. Minimum security. Minimum qualifications. Minimum standards.
One could say it’s just in our nature to constantly search for the least possible effort to get what we want. In some cases, minimums do save us time, energy, etc. and provide useful targets. But when it comes to our most meaningful relationships, we generally don’t spend a lot of time figuring out how to put forth our minimum love and affection.
Today’s readings offer a contrast for us of how our minimal tendencies play out in our relationship with God. Of our tendency toward a minimum transactional relationship with God versus an emotional, transformational relationship.
The first reading from Amos gives a glimpse of God not pleased with simply minimum sacrifices and worship. “I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the Lord, I take no pleasure in your solemnities.” “Away with your noisy songs!” The theme continues in the psalm: “Why do you recite my statues and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”
In the Gospel, we are once again reminded how Jesus reached out to the outcasts of society. Two people with unclean spirits have apparently been harassing travelers along a certain road. We are told that the demoniacs were so savage that no one used the road. Yet Jesus dared to meet them exactly where they were. The territory of the Gadarenes was not a Jewish area, as evidenced by the nearby herd of swine. And while it was not the only time Jesus had interaction with Gentiles in his ministry, it points out how Jesus did not limit his healing.
The possessed came from among the tombs, just as we come out of our areas of entombment – our addictions, our over-indulgences, our judgments of others, our abuse of our gifts, our negative attitudes. Yet they and we ask the same question, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us?” It’s a question in one form or another that we all ask: What do I have to do if I say I follow you? What is the minimum I need to do to be saved? What’s the nine-step formula I need to follow? How can I meet the requirements of my religion without getting too involved?
However, it’s a question that we don’t ask in our most important relationships. Imagine asking: What’s the least I can give my children and keep their affection? How can I have an amazing marriage without really exerting myself? If we truly love the other, these questions don’t even make sense. We are invited to love Jesus in the same way. So it’s no longer a question of what will be required of me, but rather how can I spend more time with Jesus? How can I be with Him in His mission?
This is the conversion of heart we hear so much about during Lent and Advent – to cultivate an emotional love with our God, which is different from an intellectual, theological or even spiritual love. Loving and being lead to acting. With no limits. No minimums. Definitely not easy, even a little frightening, given all the emotions and objects competing for our affection.
Our readings today help remind us not to get lulled into thinking that we can have a full, life-giving relationship with God while giving the least possible effort. When we are in love, we stop counting effort and focus on the beloved. Let our prayer be to let go of our affinity for minimums, to refocus on falling in love with Jesus and to experience the freedom to love others as Jesus did.
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