Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / Ps 18 / 1 Thes 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
We have this great commandment to love from Jesus. At first it seems that there’s two commandments here, but in reality, there are three. The second one has two parts. The first says to love the Lord with your whole heart and soul, and the second says to love your neighbor as yourself. So, there’s the commandment to love the neighbor but also a commandment to love yourself.
These three commandments are very much interdependent with one another. They’re like a tripod. A tripod has three legs; if you remove one of the legs then the other two fall. That’s the way it is with these commandments; they are interdependent. They’re all intertwined with one another.
Think about the commandment for loving yourself, having a healthy self-love: Why shouldn’t you? God created you in love, and you were conceived in love. A healthy self-love is very important, because if you don’t have a healthy self-love, and you’re looking down on yourself, how can you really have a good relationship with other people? If you don’t love others, you can’t very well love God. Saint John, in his first letter, asks, how can say you love the God you can’t see if you don’t love the neighbor you can see? And of course, if we don’t love others, we probably have a dim image of ourselves without the proper image of love of God.
Those are very important and of course, the love of God is all encompassing. In the love of God there is a commandment to love God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. That’s important, because if we don’t have that overarching love of God, then our love of ourselves and our neighbors is too exclusive. It’s not broad enough if we don’t have that love of God.
Seeing God reflected in all of creation, in all people, leaving none of them out, and realizing also that the love is not always easy. It’s not always easy to love your neighbor – some of them aren’t very lovable, let’s be honest. Of course, there are things to get in the way, like grudges that last for generations. Yes, it’s not always easy to love our neighbors, but it is our call to do that. The overarching love of all creation calls us to love everyone and everybody – we don’t leave anyone or any groups of people out.
For love to be love it has to be active. When there’s no activity, there is no love, and so our love has to be very active and involved. If we don’t take time to treasure love ourselves, then everything’s going to falter. Loving others meets an active love, going out of our way to love them.
Who’s the neighbor? The neighbor is anyone God puts in your path. That’s the neighbor, whether it’s your immediate family, your extended family, your workplace, your neighborhood, your church, people you meet in the street, anyone God puts in your path is your neighbor. The thing is that God makes the choice – we don’t always have a choice about who our neighbor is. We probably wish we did, but that’s whoever God manages to put in our path. Sometimes that can be very difficult if you’ve got other agendas going and this person steps into your life and is demanding your attention right now, it’s not always easy. But it’s a call to love your neighbor as yourself, whoever that neighbor may be.
Then this is really big today – loving God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. We cannot exclude any groups of people, and there’s too much of that in the world today, and too much of that in our history. We’ve excluded the Blacks and the Native Americans. In the love of all creation, we’re not doing too good a job of loving all creation. We are destroying creation, and this is important as to whether or not we’re going to live, and not just for us but for the generations that come after us.
Loving God and all people and all creation – the Church is really calling us to this. Eight years ago, Pope Francis put out an encyclical on the environment, calling us to honesty and calling us to respect the environment as God’s precious creation. And in the last couple months he added an addendum to that where he’s bringing the process even further along. I’d like to say this is important; this is whether or not we’re going to survive.
Love God with your whole heart and soul, and see God reflected in all people and in all creation. That’s a pretty serious obligation. One thing that I thought of being connected with this was an American Indian way of ending a prayer. We say “amen,” but many of them say “all my relations.” That doesn’t mean all their relatives; it means a relationship with all people and all creation – all my relations. And the significance of that is that if you’re not in all creation, there’s something dishonest about your prayer. That’s pretty profound; that you can’t pray worthily unless you’re a in a relationship with all people and all creation. All my relations – could we honestly say that at the end of a prayer instead of amen?