30th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40
Loving God and Neighbour!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 29th October 2017

In today’s Gospel, to disconcert and to test Jesus, one of the Pharisees asked, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”  Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments hand the whole Law, and the Prophets also.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we reflect on our lives, you and I have to admit with humility, that from our track records, “to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind” is impossible, simply because you and I are sinners.  We also know that, to love our neighbours with our whole heart, soul and mind, which includes those who have hurt us, harmed us and are considered our so called “enemies” is also impossible.  So, where does all that Jesus have said leave us? 

Let us first note that while both the love of God and our neighbours are distinct, they are inseparable.  This means that we cannot claim that we are living a “holy life” if at the same time we are relating and treating others badly, unjustly and sinfully. 

Second, let us note more carefully at what Jesus said, He said that the “greatest and the first commandment is to love God, with our whole heart, soul and mind”.  In other words, the love of our neighbours is NOT the greatest and the first commandment.  This means that the purpose and goal of our life is solely to “love God with our whole heart, soul and mind”.  This makes good sense because we owe our existence to God.  It is God who created us, and brought us into existence out of His infinite and unconditional Love.  And, this God longs deeply that every single person that He had created would eventually return to Him and be with Him in heaven for all eternity.  St Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, more specifically states that the goal and purpose of our lives is to “praise, reverence and serve God.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if the sole purpose of our lives is to “praise, reverence and serve God” with our whole heart, soul and mind, then all our relationships, whether with our spouses, families, relatives, friends can only grow and last in-so-far as we are able to build a strong relationship with God.  In other words, if our relationship with God is not strong, then our relationships in marriage, or in our vocation to the priesthood and religious vocation would also not be strong, as they are then not founded on our commitment and love for God.  To build our relationships on our human intentions and is to build them on sand and not on rock.  This is because only God can be our reliable and solid foundation in our life and in our relationships.

Third, let us also note that when Jesus said, “we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind,” it seems to me He is speaking of an ideal that all of us are to aspire towards during our whole lives.  Jesus knows our weakness and sinfulness and He has come that sinners be saved.  As such, God who knows we are not perfect would only expect that we have a sincerity of heart, to try our best to “praise, reverence and serve” Him as much as we can; strengthened by the Sacraments that He in His Wisdom has given us, through our Church. 

Let us next turn to what Jesus mean when He said that we are called to “love our neighbours which resembles, our love for God with our whole heart, soul and mind, and that we should also, love them as ourselves.” 

My brothers and sisters, we all know that when Jesus speaks of loving our neighbours, he literally means that we are each called to love every person that exists on this earth, regardless of their race, religion, rank, language and who they are.  And we also know that for many people, we have found it impossible to love every person, especially if we do not know them, and more so if they have hurt us, or harmed us or even for some, destroyed our families and our future.  A common example of this is when a spouse commits adultery or abandons the family for another person through infidelity, or a priest or religious losing his vocation because of someone, which could be one of his superiors. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, it seems to me that Jesus is again speaking of an ideal, that we love every person regardless of who they are and how much they may have hurt and harmed us.  This is because every person is created in God’s image and likeness and out of God’s pure and unconditional love. And so, this means that in essence, every person is a child of God our Father, and God loves every person as much as He loves you and me. 

In other words, at the very least we should treat and relate and value each person with respect.  Each person has a right to be respected and treated with dignity, simply because he is a human person, as the fundamental reality of each person is that he or she is created by God, and loved by God unconditionally; whether born or unborn and still in his or her mother’s womb. A child in his or her mother’s womb may not yet have a personality, at conception, but nevertheless, has all the essentials to develop into a full and mature person, and thus must be respected and loved, like anybody else.  A voiceless person is still a human person; likewise, a poor and marginalised person although not respected and valued in society is still a person; fully and unconditionally loved by God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, an aspect of loving our neighbour in Jesus’ commandment that is most challenging daily, that is appropriate that we reflect on are people we have to live with for life, as spouses in marriage and as members of a religious community.  Trying to live and love one another in such a reality has many challenges.  To love the people we live with, we first, need to have good communication.  Good communication needs to be built on trust on openness. 

What happens if David returns home from work and then uses the kitchen and messes it up; he then make a cup of coffee and while watching TV spills some of the coffee and not only that, he lives his mug unwashed, and goes to bed.  He wife, Susan after putting the children to sleep, after a long day, comes out to the sitting room and kitchen and sees all that David has done yells, “David, every time you come home from work, you mess up the kitchen and the house . . . you are so inconsiderate.  I work hard all day to take care of the children and feel so tired, the least you could do is to take care of the home.  You don’t seem to care at what is happening at home at all, why are you so selfish . . . can’t you wash up your mug and keep the kitchen clean?!” 

My sisters and brothers, while it is good to communicate openly what we feel, we should refrain from adding our judgments in what we say.  This is how it would sound if Susan were to communicate openly to David without adding her judgment.  “David, when you do not wash your mug, or clean up when you spill your coffee, and clean up after you use the kitchen, I feel upset because at the end of each day, I am already very tired from taking care of the children.”

In such open communication of Susan, without passing the judgment, that David is “inconsiderate and selfish”, Susan is simply giving feedback to David that what he does or does not do affects her.  With such open and healthy communication, David now becomes more fully aware of how his actions affect Susan, and it is then his responsibility to help build the relationship, by not repeating such actions. 

Another, important aspect of loving the people we live with is: commitment.  We take our married or religious vows to commit ourselves to love one another, but this commitment can easily fade and the love we have for one another can be taken for granted.  When there is true commitment to love one another, we will then become more conscious of our need to be “self-sacrificing” in our relationship.  Without the selfless sacrifice that our pride and our ego will get in the way of building the relationship.  And when we are not careful and allow our pride and ego that insists on our will and ways, in a relationship, over time, anxieties will build up and the relationship will begin to drift apart . . . and before we know it . . . the tragic day may come when the relationship ends up with frequent quarrels and one day may even be beyond repair . . . 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let me conclude by reminding ourselves that, while I am just citing some illustrations on how we are called to love our neighbour more fully, the Wisdom of Jesus that we heard proclaimed to us in today’s Gospel is that “the greatest and the first commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind” and it is only when we take this “first and greatest” commandment to heart and daily build our relationship with God, without cutting corners in our prayer life and nourishing our spiritual life and faith through frequenting our Sacraments can we then put into action and live more deeply and love more wholeheartedly, our neighbours as God wills of us . . . for without a strong and personal relationship with God, our relationships with our neighbours would never be strong and our vocation would never be deep . . for our true and ONLY purpose and goal in life is to praise, reverence and serve God.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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