Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 29, 2017)
Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees in their attempt to test and trap him on the issue of the resurrection of the body [MT 22:34f’]. In today’s reading, a scribe: that is, a Pharisee with a degree in canon law, “steps up” to take his shot at Jesus with a question. Which of the Ten Commandments plus the six hundred and thirteen rules [the Deuteronomic laws] that rabbis believed God orally gave Moses was the most important of all?
Some rabbis thought all were equally important -- a kind of early example of “the seamless garment “ notion. Most others used to dispute which ones were the greatest.
Jesus’ response is an acceptable one, quoting DT: 6:5 stressing that the love of God must involve the total person: heart, soul, and mind. Then, Jesus goes on to quote LV19: 18, which stresses that one, should love one’s neighbor as oneself.
Jesus combines these two commandments and declares that they are the foundation of God’s entire revelation; that is, the whole law and the prophets. Combining these two may not be unique to Jesus, but it clearly shows his position on these essentials of the Torah.
We have the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When one part fails, the entirety fails. This applies to love, too, in regard to the three-link chain of love: for ourselves, for our neighbor, for our God.
Love of self is the trickiest one. Today, let us look at that in more detail.
On the one hand, we sometimes revert to infantile behavior - life is all about me. We have trouble learning that I am not the center of the universe -- as a young child believes. If we fail to learn to admit that we are sinners, we are in for trouble. We all admit we are not perfect, but many have trouble admitting being wrong in any specific instance. We do anything to avoid admitting failure.
On the other hand, some may have been love-starved or abused when young, or authority figures may have put us down so heavily that our self-image is badly damaged. We have real trouble with loving ourselves
The romans said it well: in medio stat virtus - in the middle (between the extremes) stands virtue. A healthy self-image stands in the middle: I am neither a doormat - nor am I the center of the universe.
Perhaps we all need to check for need for balance on this first step in the progression from love for self, to love for our neighbor, to love for our God. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves - how do we love ourselves?
For those who are in the extreme mode of “life is all about me,” there is not much another can do for one in that extreme place. But, for those whose self-image has been injured, a helpful hint is to remember that a big part of faith growth for Christians is acting as if something were true. This neatly dovetails with one of those wonderful insights of the Alcoholics Anonymous program: “Fake it ‘till you make it.” “Fake” in the sense that you assume the attitude that you are lovable. Act as if you are a loveable person. Try to do something at least once daily that a person with a healthy sense of self-respect and self-worth would do.
A second and more spiritual effort that we can make during the same time is to internalize the truth from St. John’s letter: “God is love.” Love is who God is. Love is what God is. We come to the realization that we can love because God has loved us first. We are all lovable for that basic reason.
Then, act as if you feel loving toward a troublesome neighbor. At least once a day try exercising patience and understanding toward the other for behavior that would normally upset you.
Finally, we are able to bring love into our relation-ship with God. We come to recognize God as the “initiator” of love. We are created to love ourselves our neighbors, our God. That is what Jesus did. That is our call: Live Jesus.