Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem begins: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” When we love someone we have some evidence flowing from our interior disposition out into actions revealing that love. Love is shown in actions.
We might pray with a paraphrase of that line, “How do You love me, let me count the ways.” There is no legal textbook stating exactly how we should love others. We have to make it up as we go along, as we meet each person and situation.
We are invited to pray for a loving, compassionate, unstandardized interior, formed by the personality of Jesus. We are invited to pray, not for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances of our lives.
We pray with the grace received in the Eucharist to live with gestures of personal and selfless kindness. Love can be expressed in the smallest of ways and especially toward the orphans, widows and those in most need. We pray with our asking ourselves about how many ways we can extend the Eucharist through us to His most unimportant, but most significant friends.
We are presented with the exact particulars as well as the indefinite, but definite in our readings for this liturgy. Which way is easier to do? Perhaps one might think that being told with strict exactness how one is to love might be more comfortable than being told, well, just to love ones neighbor.
What we hear are some verses about not molesting or mistreating foreigners, orphans and widows. If one were to harm such and they cried to God, then God would mercilessly kill the abuser.
Next we hear about lending and demanding high interest. Collateral is reasonable, but compassion must be shown or God’s compassion will be withheld. Keeping these “laws” is how one would love God by doing what the “law” required. The question remains then, does keeping the “law” on the external mean it is love?
Last week’s Gospel pictured Jesus as silencing the Jewish religious leaders with His answer about Caesar’s coin. The story which follows that one, which precedes our Gospel for today, has a similar ending. The leaders ask Jesus about a woman whose first husband dies and so she marries his brothers, one by one, who also die. Whose wife will she be in heaven? They are confounded by His response.
The Gospel opens with a reference to these silencings. To save face they ask Jesus a question concerning the Law - which of all of them was the greatest. His answer is direct, but beyond confronting. It is not exactly exact enough to pin Jesus down. As with the question about Caesar’s coin, the Pharisees are trying to pit Jesus against Roman law as well as their own Jewish traditions.
Their question reminds me of my first year at St. Norbert College near Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was taking a Philosophy course and could not figure out such concepts as essence, existence and all those kind of things I still have troubles with. Well in an oral exam, wanting to show the professor that I had some interest in the subject, I asked him who was the better philosopher, Augustine or Aquinas. I had heard those names floating around, but I thought I would trick him into talking more and asking me less. He did me dirt. He asked me my opinion and in which areas I would like to compare and contrast. He, like Jesus did, left me silenced.
In Luke’s account of this question and answer session, the Pharisees respond by asking then, “Who is my neighbor?” Matthew leaves it more to us not only about who are neighbor is, but what constitutes loving that person. We could play around a bit and make sure that our neighbors are not unlovable; that they are just like us and easy to love. We could say that our neighbors have to live within one hundred meters of our front steps. We could figure out how often in one day or week do we have to do such things of love so as to fulfill Jesus’ law. Leaving it oh so general can befuddle us and take us out of our legalistic comfort zone. This is exactly what Jesus is doing by making it both indefinite in one sense, but quite exact in a deeper more religious sense.
We love God, less by emotion and more by counting the ways God loves us and receiving that love gracefully. This is the first and greatest “invitation”. “Command” is a word Jesus used, because of the Jewish sense of “law”. Jesus is the Divine Invitation to experience what real human life is all about. The Second Invitation is good for us too. It is what real life is all about. When we respond to the First Invitation, then living the Second Invitation is both holy and healthy.
I suspect that you were hoping I could explicitate exactly what it means to love God and love your neighbor. Jesus left it up to us and so I too, leave it up to you. Loving God and loving our neighbor are both one and the same act of faith. That is exactly what Jesus was inviting the Pharisees to make. It is His invitation to us as well.
“Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering to God.” Eph. 5, 2
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