We are in the 31st week in Ordinary Time. In the Gospel, Jesus summarizes the Old and the New Testament into one commandments, which we call the greatest commandment: the love of God and neighbor. We love God by loving others. We love God because He loves us first, and He created us in love, for love and to love.
The first reading presents Moses explaining the Law to the Israelites after his return from Mount Sinai. He tries to make the people show reverence for, and obey, the Law as something that will bring them dignity and purpose, stature and distinction and a unique place in history. He reminds us to love God by keeping His commandments. He also describes the blessings reserved for those who obey the commandments.
The second reading tells us how Jesus, the eternal and holy high priest, offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to demonstrate God’s love for us. Paul affirms that Jesus, the new High Priest, is superior to the old High Priests for three reasons: a) He doesn’t die and therefore doesn’t need to be replaced generation after generation, b) He is sinless, so He need not offer sacrifices for His own sins, and c) the Jewish priests were appointed according to the Law, but Jesus is appointed by the Word of God—Jesus is Word Incarnate.
In the Gospel, Jesus summarizes all commandments into one: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Thus, Jesus says that true religion is loving God and loving our fellow human beings at the same time. The command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves is a very demanding one. It was very hard for the Jews of Jesus’ time because only a fellow Jew, obeying the Mosaic Law, was considered their neighbor. That is why, immediately after defining this important commandment, Jesus tells the people the parable of the Good Samaritan, as reported in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus wanted to teach His listeners that everyone in need is their neighbor, such as someone at home, in your neighborhood, or at your work place. Loving our neighbor is a matter of deeds, not feelings. It means sharing with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us. This is the kind of love for neighbor that God commands in His law.
There are several ways by which we can express our love for God and gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. We must keep God’s commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise, contrition, and petition. We must also read and meditate on His word in the Bible and prayerfully attend Mass and other liturgical functions.
If I am going to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, then I am going to have to place His will ahead of mine. This means that I may have to say no to some things that I might want to do. It also means that I am going to have to seek the Lord’s will and make it paramount in my life. Taken together, loving God means we open our hearts, give Him our will, develop our minds, direct our emotions, use our bodies and deploy our resources in ways that reveal our love for Him in active, loving service of everyone we encounter.
Because every human being is a child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, we are actually giving expression to our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him and us. This means we have to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone, whether good or bad, sinner or righteous. If I am going to love my neighbor as I love myself, it will cost me as well. I may have to seek forgiveness when I think I have done no wrong. I may have to sacrifice something to meet a brother’s need. I may have to give up time to help someone. I may have to spend time in prayer for people, go to them, and reach out to them. If you do this, Jesus will say to you as He did to the Scribe in the Gospel, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”