When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him, "You shall 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 is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
I taught freshman and sophomore religion classes at a Catholic high school for three years. It was easily one of the most fulfilling jobs I ever had. Every Friday, I would cut my lecture short to allow time for what I called “Question Box Friday”. I would pass around a shoe box and students would anonymously write down whatever questions they may have about God or religion. Morality, specifically sexual morality, was always a consistent theme, and those kinds of questions often centered on how much one could get away with before committing too serious of a sin. The second most popular subject focused on how to know what God’s will is for our lives.
In the passage above from Matthew’s Gospel, taken from the readings for the 30th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus provides a deep, yet simple answer to these kinds of questions: Love God and Love Others. I would often explain to my students that rather than focusing on what you can or can’t get away with, or what is or isn’t a sin, that our focus needs to be on loving and following Christ. If we can keep our eyes on him then we don’t need to worry about these things because he won’t lead us to sin. If we could just put our effort into learning to love Jesus and others as he loved then we could find peace. In the end, this is all that God asks of us.
The problem is we don’t know how to love. Our efforts at love can become clouded and confused by our need to be loved. Jesus showed us that love requires that we put the needs and wellbeing of the other before our own. It also requires obedience to the one who made us and knows us for himself is love. This struggle to put God first is the first and most difficult challenge. Pope Benedict pointed out that when we adore God we are putting ourselves face-to-face with him (adore comes from the Latin, “ad ora”, or mouth to mouth). When we turn our focus to God we align ourselves with him, and from him we are then able to love others.
We were taking a family trip to visit my in-laws not too long ago. We had all the kids and all of our stuff loaded into our minivan. Everything was going well until a loud noise erupted from the front of the van. We had blowout. Fortunately, I was able to safely pull over, but the front driver’s side tire was shredded. Apparently, the alignment was off and we didn’t know it, but that shift in the alignment caused the inside of the tire to wear unevenly until it finally burst. When our love isn’t fully aligned with God, when we let our ideas or desires about love to influence us, our spiritual alignment gets out of place, and if left uncorrected can lead to counterfeit “loves” that are disordered, distracted, or disappointed. The world holds these false loves out as the ideal when in fact they are mere superficial, self-centered sentimentality. May we respond to the grace God offers us to learn how to truly love from him and him alone.