Ex. 22:21-27; 1 Thess. 1:5c-10; Mt. 22:34-40
The First Reading that we have just heard from the Book of Exodus [Ex. 22:21-27] spoke of the loving relationship that the Israelites men should have towards those who were under-privileged. The responsibility was upon the men because in those days, they were the authority over the families. The under-privileged were the aliens (the immigrants), those who were forced to leave their homes because of circumstances such as wars, plagues or famines.
The Lord reminded the Israelites that once, they too were as aliens while living in Egypt. Now, their Laws commands them to be warm and helpful to those who are less fortunate as they once were less fortunate. These binding laws are found throughout the Old Testament. [Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 1:16, 10:17-9, 14:28-9, 16:11-4; Jer. 7:6]
Today, we gather to reflect on a profound teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. It is a passage that encapsulates the essence of our faith, the very heart of our relationship with God and one another. In response to a question from a lawyer, Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
And in His response, Jesus provides us with a profound and unifying message, a message that echoes through the ages, transcending religious and cultural boundaries. He said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
This teaching from Jesus is the foundation of our Christian faith, and it serves as a guiding light for our lives. It is a lesson of love, the highest form of love: love for God and love for our neighbour.
The Bible offers countless passages that reiterate the significance of love for both God and our neighbour. In 1 John 4:20, we read, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." These verses emphasize the inseparable connection between love for God and love for our fellow human beings.
Jesus' commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," the idea is beautifully illustrated in many Christian biographies and inspirational books.
One such example is "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom. This book tells the true story of Corrie and her family, devout Christians who risked their lives to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Their deep love for God and their unwavering faith inspired them to put their faith into action, even in the darkest of times. Their courageous acts of love and sacrifice, motivated by their love for God, showcase the embodiment of the greatest commandment.
Another story that beautifully illustrates this commandment is "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson. This book chronicles the experiences of David Wilkerson, a Pentecostal minister who felt called to reach out to gang members in New York City. His dedication to loving and serving these troubled youth, despite the dangers and challenges, was driven by his deep love for God. Through his efforts, many lives were transformed, and his story exemplifies the commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind by loving and serving your neighbours.
Jesus gave equal importance to Love of neighbour. He said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself." [Mt. 22:34-40]
The classic story that exemplifies the theme of loving your neighbour as yourself is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.
Set in the American South during the 1930s, the novel tells the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer, and his two children, Scout and Jem. Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man falsely accused of raping a white woman. As Atticus takes on the case, he becomes a target of racial prejudice and hatred from some members of the community.
Throughout the novel, Atticus consistently demonstrates the values of empathy, respect, and love for his neighbours, regardless of their race or social status. He is a principled man who believes in justice and equality, and he imparts these values to his children.
One of the most poignant moments in the novel occurs during Tom Robinson's trial. Despite the overwhelming evidence in favour of Tom's innocence, he is found guilty due to racial bias. However, the jury's verdict deeply affects Atticus's neighbours, some of whom are ashamed of the injustice done to Tom Robinson.
Scout and Jem, Atticus's children, also learn valuable lessons about loving their neighbours as themselves. They befriend their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley, who is the subject of neighbourhood rumours and prejudice. Through their experiences, they come to understand the importance of seeing people as individuals and showing kindness to all, regardless of their background.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a powerful and enduring story that teaches us about the significance of empathy and compassion for our neighbours. Atticus Finch's character embodies the ideals of justice, love, and respect for others, even in the face of prejudice and injustice. The novel remains a classic example of how we should strive to love and respect our neighbours, embracing the principles of equality and justice.
These two commandments, loving God and loving our neighbour, are intertwined, for they are inseparable. Our love for God is reflected in our love for our neighbour, and our love for our neighbour is an expression of our love for God. They are like two sides of the same coin, mutually reinforcing and interdependent.
When we love our neighbour as ourselves, we fulfil the law and the prophets, as Jesus teaches. We embody the principles of justice, mercy, and compassion that are at the core of God's message to humanity. Our actions, guided by love, become a testament to our faith and a source of inspiration to others.
In the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, we find a man who not only loved God with all his heart but also loved his neighbours, both human and non-human, with a boundless, selfless love. His devotion to prayer and contemplation of God's creation was complemented by his care for the poor and marginalized, his respect for all living creatures, and his commitment to peace.
Saint Francis embodied the teachings of Jesus by living a life of love for God and love for his neighbours. His actions continue to inspire countless individuals to this day, reminding us that we are called to imitate his example, embracing the two greatest commandments.
Let us commit to loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and to loving our neighbours as ourselves. Through these two commandments, we can build a world rooted in love, justice, and compassion, where the law and the prophets find their fulfilment.
May God grant us the grace and strength to live out these commandments daily.