15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 10, 2016.
Dt 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37
Why love must be qualified
“You have answered correctly, do this and you will live.”
It had been 40 years of God’s fidelity despite the rebellion of His chosen people in their journey to the Promised Land. Moses, at the close of his life and with the Promised Land in sight, laments about their inability to observe the Lord’s commandments though they knew the commandments, “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God and keep His commandments and statute… it (the commandments) is something near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
Why were the Israelites struggling to keep the commandments they knew so well? Why do we also struggle to keep the commandments of God that we too know so well even as we have many more reasons to be obedient out of gratitude to Him? To answer this question, we need to qualify our love and honestly answer the basic question, “Who do I love more: God or myself?” No matter how much we know and love God’s commandments or profess them, our obedience will be lacking as long as we love ourselves more than we love God.
The scholar in today’s Gospel knows the commandments well and their connection with the commandments to love, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind, and (then) love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ response, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live,” affirms that we have His life in us to the extent that we love God first and foremost above self and all things and then we love our neighbors as ourselves. Our heroic obedience to God’s commandments and our selfless love for our neighbors depends on how we qualify our love: Who do I love more – God or myself?
Like the scholar, the Levite and the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan know the law too about love of God and neighbor. They obviously love God but they love themselves more than they love God. They manifest this primacy of self-love over love for God in their lives when they “passed on the opposite side” when they see the dying man on the street side.
On the other hand, the Samaritan loves God more than self. He gains nothing for what he did and he expects nothing back. He does not treat the wounded man based on the Jews’ contempt for Samaritans. He is an example of a person with a truly qualified love described by Thomas A Kempis’ Imitation of Christ:
“Whoever has true and perfect charity is never self-seeking, but desire only that God’s glory be served in all things. He envies no one, for he loves no joy for himself alone and does not wish to find the source of joy in himself, but longs for his supreme happiness in God above every other good.” (Imitation, 1:15)
But how can we love God more than we love ourselves? We can only love God more than we love ourselves when, by divine grace, we share in the love of Jesus Christ for His Father. St. Paul reminds the Colossians that “all things were created through Him (Christ) and for Him,” and “in Him the fullness (of God) was pleased to dwell.” But Jesus’ love was perfectly qualified, loving His Father to the extent of emptying Himself to the point of becoming “obedient to death, even death on the cross,” and this for the sake of “reconciling all things by the blood of the cross.” Having been reconciled with God in Jesus Christ, we too have access to all the graces that we need to participate in His love for the Father and to love God more than we love ourselves, keeping His commandments faithfully and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
When we do not love God more than we love ourselves, when we choose self-gratification over seeking the good pleasure of God, we obey the commandments only when it is conducive for us or when we have something to gain and then we begin to pick and choose who to love. Then we become preoccupied with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” instead of seeing in all people an invitation to qualify our love and show that we love God more than we love ourselves.
At each moment of our lives, Jesus constantly invites us too to qualify our love for Him for the sake of loving Him and others. He had asked Simon Peter at the Sea of Tiberias to qualify his love for Him, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Simon had to answer in the positive before he was commissioned, “Tend my sheep.”
We need to seek persistently for this grace of God in prayer and in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and Confession, if we are ever going to be moved powerfully from the inside to love God more than we love ourselves. With this grace in our souls, we will be like Mother Mary, who was so filled with grace that she obeyed God’s commandments perfectly, always loving God above self. She obeyed God’s commandments when she quietly presented the infant Savior in the Temple of Jerusalem. By taking the beloved disciple as her son at the foot of the cross, she obeyed the instruction of her dying son at that painful moment to be mother of all the redeemed, “Woman, behold your son.” Obedient to the point of standing at the foot of the cross, she completely forgot herself as she willingly suffered with her dying son for us sinners.
My dear brothers and sisters, God’s laws and commandments are written in our hearts in as much as we all have a conscience as an irretrievable gift from our Creator God. Having reconciled us to the Father, Jesus has won for us access to every grace that we need in life to obey Him and to love others as ourselves.
Our Eucharist is an encounter with this same Jesus Christ, an opportunity to have His words that are “spirit and life” further engraved in our hearts and to have our souls inebriated by His grace. There is no commandment of His that we cannot keep or neighbor of ours that we cannot love as ourselves if only we answer this personal question correctly, “Who do I love more: God or myself?”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!