As the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, it’s hard to imagine how Jesus could have responded to his questioners in any other way, than with his famous two-part reply about love of God and love of neighbour, in today’s Gospel. Presenting both dimensions of love of God as contained in the greatest commandment, I believe it was no coincidence that Jesus’ reply expressed in a ‘cruciform way’, the vertical dimension as our love of God, and the horizontal dimension as our love of neighbour.
Personally, I think it’s rather sad that we often use the word love, in the same way, and with the same enthusiasm, for just about anything from our fondness for ice-cream through to affection for our pets, parents or partners. The Word of God, however, makes the essential distinction for us by highlighting that love is much more about sacrifice than self, and selfishness.
St Paul’s words to the Thessalonians serve to remind us that not only have we been liberated through the power of the Good News, but that our liberation stands as a sign of God’s love for us, whilst our acceptance of, and adherence to, the Good News, is a sign of our love for God.
With the Pharisees posing what they thought would be yet another difficult question for Jesus to answer in today’s Gospel, it should again come as no surprise, that Jesus was able to turn the tables with his reply - presenting first the vertical dimension of our call to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And as we know from Jesus’ own examples, such love requires sacrifice and humility.
In the second half of his reply, Jesus presented the horizontal dimension of love of God, by us, through loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, which can so often be the more difficult of the two dimensions because we overlook it so easily, especially when stuck in traffic or in a queue at the supermarket. No matter who we are, we simply cannot love God without loving our neighbours, which is why Jesus said, ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their sister or brother, they are liars’. This is also why charity must begin at home, among family, friends, and those around us. And since God loves us, we are obliged to love others in imitation of some of the examples that Jesus left us. In humility, expressed so beautifully when Jesus knelt and washed his apostle’s feet, putting selfless love into action.
Showing mercy, forgiveness, and compassion to others, by walking a mile in their shoes, and by treating everyone the way we would like to be treated, are all examples of love which we can choose to express every single day. So today, let’s ask God for the grace and humility we need to make real the words of our Opening Prayer, as we strive to increase our faith, hope and charity, and love what God commands, so that one day we may merit the promise of eternal life.