YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: THE LOVE COMMANDMENT
BY: Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Some time ago, I met a young man who confessed to me that he does not believe that love exists. While I was not surprised at his daring conviction, I was interested to know his story. According to his sad tale, he was hoping to marry a lady whom he loved so much and sponsored through her nursing school. However, one month after her graduation, she broke up with him and got engaged to someone he considered a close friend. The young man ended his narrative by maintaining that love is an illusion.
Many people would probably connect with the young man’s story and may also support the view that love does not exist. However, it may be fitting for us to give love a perspective before disputing or accepting the man’s conviction. Love has defied all attempts towards a unified definition. Consequently, most people define it as it fits their perceptions. For someone like the young man, love is about returning the favor with a corresponding favor on the platform of feelings. For others still, love is fondness or attachment to something or someone, but these are subject to radical changes and love by biblical explication does not change or end (1 Cor. 13:8).
Love became the topic of the reflection for this Sunday by default and not by design. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 12:28b-34), a Scribe comes to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask him a very ambiguous question: “which is the first of all the commandments.” The question coming from a Scribe (a professional theologian of the time) would require more than a casual answer. We all know about the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), but not most of us know that there was a total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament Jewish tradition. A total of 248 disclose things that people should do, while 365 show the things that people should not do. Now when the Scribe asked Jesus about the first of all the commandment, he was referring to the whole of the 613 commandments, and that makes the question ambiguous.
As demanding as the question was, our Lord gives the Scribe a double-barrelled answer with profound theological depth. Our Lord says to the Scribe, the first is this: “Hear O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Furthermore, our Lord says the second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is fascinating to see that our Lord answers by appealing to two core passages from the Old Testament that talk about love. The first comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) which also constitutes part of the Shema, that is the Jewish daily prayer. The Second comes from the book of Leviticus (19:18).
What our Lord accomplished in answer to the question of the Scribe was to summarize the whole commandments with a common denominator; namely, love. Looking at the Ten Commandments very carefully, we could see that it is divided between our duties to God and our responsibilities to others. So, our Lord’s answer to the Scribe indicates that love provides the platform for obeying the commandments. In fact, without love it is impossible to follow any of the commandments but what is love?
The Love Definition
We still need to situate love by way of definition or better understanding. Most Musicians, fiction writers, and filmmakers give people various versions of the meaning of love that most people now have wrong impressions.
Love is a verb, not just a noun. Love is not just what you feel or say it is what you do unconditionally for the benefit of another. Our Lord Jesus Christ says that there is no greater love than one’s decision to die for one’s friends (John 15:13). That is what our Lord accomplished for us on the cross. The self- giving sacrifice of the cross.
Love then is about giving and doing so unconditionally without expecting any favor in return like the young man in our opening.
The Command to Love God
To love God as human beings appear impracticable using our visual dependencies. God is Spirit, and St John says those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). In the command to love God, the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) says with all your heart, soul, and strength and our Lord Jesus Christ in answer to the Scribe used his editorial license to add “ with all your mind.” To love God is not what one could do with only one aspect of oneself; it is instead a total engagement nothing is left behind. When we love God with those four fundamental components of our being nothing is left behind. What our Lord is telling us here is to give back to God all we received from him. Our Lord’s inclusion of mind in the command is very instructive as he was encountering a generation with a growing emphasis on reason or the intellect over faith. Loving God with all our mind is an invitation to us to submit our rationality to divinity. We don’t need to see reason or give reason to love. The lyrics of a secular songs says: “love doesn’t ask why, speaks from the heart, never explains, don’t know that love doesn’t think twice, it can come all at once or whispers from a distance.”
The Command to Love, your Neighbor
Your neighbor is not just the person living next door to you but anyone you can touch positively anytime and anywhere. Our Lord explained the nature and character of neighborliness in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Loving your neighbor means going beyond yourself and recognizing the needs of others. We are familiar with the golden rule which says, “do unto others as you would want them to do to you” (Matt. 7:12). But some of us may not be familiar with the platinum rule which is an inspiration from the golden that says, “do unto others as they would like to be treated.”
Our Lord gave a double-barrelled answer to the Scribe’s single question to demonstrate that the Love of God is closely connected to the love of one’s neighbor. St. John says that those who say “I love God” but hate their brothers and sisters are liars because love should start from the one we see before going over to the unseen (1 John 4:20).
To love is not a suggestion nor an option; it is a commandment. Towards the end of the earthly ministry, our Lord leaves his disciples with a new commandment to love one another as he loves them and by that sharing of love everyone will know that they are his disciples. That instruction is still valid for us today. Our world is in urgent need of love in the sacrificial sense of the word. Real love is not self-seeking nor a lucrative enterprise. Our judgment before the throne of God would not be on how often we prayed nor how long we stayed in the Church but on how far our love reached out to others (Matt. 25:31-46). The only thing we should owe others including our enemies is love (Romans 13:8).
May the steadfast Love of God that never ends (Lam. 3:22) renew our commitment to love Him always and to extend that same love to our neighbors. Have a blessed Sunday and glorious week ahead.
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