Neighbor and Self
Bill was the head of an engraving firm in New York City. He and his wife, Billie, wanted very much to have a family. Several years after their marriage, when it seemed as though God intended them to be childless, they adopted a baby boy. After a while they decided that they should adopt a girl, too.
Among those available for adoption, there was one sweet child who had a cardiac disorder. Because of the ailment, the physician who examined the little girl advised against taking her.
To the doctor’s amazement, Bill disagreed. “No,” he said, “we’ll adopt her anyhow. A daughter of ours might have been born with the same condition.”
After sixteen years of marriage, Bill and Billie welcomed a third child into their family circle. This baby was their own flesh and blood…. God’s way of saying thank you?
The second commandment is like the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39. Gospel of the day).
-Father Robert F. McNamara
A186: The gospel (Matt 22:34-40) says to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Sounds easy, but I really worry — how do I know that I am loving my neighbor?
The gospel story today occurs in the middle of a longer exchange (22:15 – 23:36). First the scribes try more than once to “trap” Jesus into making a mistake, by asking him tricky questions. Then Jesus denounces them (those terrible “Woe to you…” charges) and their practices that are both sinfully proud and needlessly burdensome. Those “woes” are aimed at hypocrites who use a rule book against others, but themselves miss the command to love their neighbor.
No church practice or rule should ever be a burden, and in our Catholic Church, none are. They are there to help us keep those two “biggies” (love of God and neighbor), and also to teach us how to avoid everything that is opposed to the “love command” – in other words, to avoid sin.
Isn’t the Cross and Resurrection the most important historical event in your life? If so, how much effort do you put into your love relationship with God, into your response to His demonstrated love? (“Once a week” is not the desired answer.) Every wise priest says that your love for God is tested and put into practice by the way you love your neighbor. Love is both a choice and an attitude – it recognizes how all relationships need to be, and then acts accordingly! Read the First Reading again for this Sunday (Ex 22:20-26), which calls our attention to society’s biggest needs (such as immigrants without legal status, widows who have no help, street people, the poor who are forced to borrow, the powerless). When we observe God’s religious laws, it has social consequences and also shows our gratitude to Him for Saving us. Today, would Jesus say “Woe to you…” regarding your actions or your inaction? Did the heavenly “Love Boat” leave port without you?
Spirituality & Action: Within your family circle, see if you can figure out how the command to “love God” is all about faith, hope and charity; and next read CCC #2086. Then, pick out a neighbor, someone you don’t know very well who lives nearby, and discuss how to surprise them with an act of kindness (without their ever finding out who did it) such as raking, shoveling, baking, or even praying a family rosary for their spiritual wellbeing. Next, read CCC #2196. Cultivate the “love habit” by sharing with each other ways we could “love our neighbor” at the office, school or neighborhood, and within our own family.
Q499: How can the Pharisees be planning a “trap,” when the topic is simply the Commandments?
Last Sunday (Matthew 22:15-21) we saw the Pharisees team up with the Herodians to try to “trap” Jesus regarding the issue of paying the hated Roman census tax. Of course, their plan failed. So once again, in today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) the Pharisees launch another plan to “trap” Jesus. They believed that each one of the 613 commands (mitzot) in the Torah were equally important and necessary to obey. Therefore, they were trying to corner Jesus into showing either ignorance about the Law, or disrespect for parts of it by choosing one command over the others.
Instead, Jesus does what he always does: he goes to the root of the issue. All of the laws, and all of the words of the prophets, have their foundation in one thing: Love. They are designed to help humans do the most lovable thing in their relationships, both with God and with other humans. Accordingly, Jesus wisely advises the Pharisees that the greatest and first command is to love God totally, faithfully, and without reservation. Not even a Pharisee can disagree with that wisdom! But not only that, there is still another command “like it,” to love your neighbor as yourself. It is to this latter command that the first reading directs our attention (Exodus 22:20-26), which reminds us also to check our attitudes today towards immigrants and migrant workers: do we love them?
Jesus lived out those commandments, as a model example for us to follow. He was in frequent, daily communion with his father in heaven, and his prayer life was exemplary. He also was, and remains, the paradigm of compassionate love. His life was filled with healings for others, sharing table fellowship with outcasts, and finally even laying down his life for all humanity with an incredible gift of salvation. How do you show your love for him?
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Go over each of the “You Shall Not…” Commandments of the Decalogue, and see how they are all interpreted in the single command to “love,” the fullness of the Law (CCC #2055).
What is the Greatest Commandment?
Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. What really matters in life. He replies with the most sacred lines in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prayer that a pious Jew recites every day: “Hear, O Israel!* The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God…, ” (Deut 6:4-5) Then Jesus adds the lines from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Today’s reading from Exodus reinforces Jesus’ teaching about love of neighbor, especially the poor and powerless.
Is the love of God merely another name for love of neighbor? Not really. We cannot love God and not love our neighbor, but there is more to it than that. The love of God has priority and is the source of love for neighbor. In our neighbor we see something of God, his creature, his image and likeness, and if we love God we must also love his image, the work of his hands. I can see my neighbor and his needs, and hopefully respond to them. But how do I love the invisible and transcendent God? The most direct way is to consider what we have received from him, everything, and give him praise and thanks, and use these gifts for the greater glory of God and the needs of our neighbor.
What should I return to the Lord for all he has given me? Lord, I offer you my heart, my soul, my body, my whole being, all I am and all I possess. You have given it all to me and I give it back to you.