30 Sunday of the Year A
Ez 22:21-27; 1Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
God's commandment of love is one, which we have heard and read repeatedly in scripture, religious books and sermons. We have also heard about human love stories in books, magazines and movies in secular literature. Therefore, our notion of love in scripture has been poisoned by our notion of love, which we have heard in secular literature. That is why the word of love sounds like an empty word because people do not really mean it. Jesus came in this world to reveal his love by dying for our sin. The word of love according to the Gospel has become an event of Jesus’ death on the cross.
In today's gospel, Jesus quotes the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 6:5) to respond to the Pharisees’ question: You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt 22:37). To love with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s mind, is a Jewish phrase of speech, expressing the totality and completeness of love involving the whole person.
Thus, the addition with all strength to the word of love in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 12:30) does not add anything to the concept of love. The amount of love for God, which God demands from his people in the Gospel of Mathew and the Gospel of Mark, is the same, no more or less. God’s second command is quoted from the book of Leviticus: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lv 19:18). The Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:1-33) are the minimum requirements for the God-loving and fearing person. These commandments were broken down by religious leaders into 613 distinct precepts, including 248 commanding precepts and 365 forbidden precepts to guide a person’s personal conduct. Now Jesus summed up in the Two Great Commandments of love or in the one double commandment of love: love for God fully and love for one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus’ answer showed that he was faithful to the Jewish tradition and heritage in the Old Testament.
To love God is to love one’s neighbor, seeing God’s presence in the neighbor. To love God and to love one’s neighbor are inseparable. They are the two most important commandments as Jesus pointed out: The whole law and the prophets depend on those two commandments (Mt 22:40). Saint John, the disciple of love reminds us: Anyone who says he loves God, yet hates his neighbor, is a liar (1Jn 4:20-21). The reason we must love our neighbor is our neighbor is created in God's image and likeness, and redeemed by the blood of his Son Jesus. To love neighbor is to pray for our neighbor and to help those in need of food, drink, clothing and shelter as the book of Exodus tells us today (Ex 22:20-25).
Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves as Saint Paul echoed: No one ever hates his own flesh (Eph 5:29). To love oneself is not excessive self-love. To love self means not to feel self-pitiful about self. To love ourselves means to accept ourselves, our limitations, to accept what we have: talent, health, look and possessions. To love ourselves means to forgive ourselves for any mistake we might have made. We often talk about forgiveness for others, yet we do not know how to forgive ourselves even after having confessed our sins and been forgiven. The reason for that is sometimes we like to foster a feeling of self-reproach and self-pity for our sins and failures committed; other times we do not want to admit our faults. To love ourselves means to be thankful for what God has given to us.
When we do not love ourselves, we can hardly love others. When we are not satisfied within ourselves, our talents and look, possessions and conducts, we can hardly be interested in others. When we complain about our unfortunate destiny or miserable fate, we might lock ourselves in self-pity. When we are not content with what we have, we would be preoccupied, worried about ourselves, finding ways to defend ourselves and criticize others as to cover our faults. Reading the Vietnamese literature, one can find figures that have not satisfied with themselves. Beautiful as Thuy Kieu was, but ill fated. Talented in writing poems with good words, but double meaning: good and bad as Hồ Xuân Hương was, but in concubine status. Living in the royal palace as Cung Oán Ngâm Khúc was, but without being paid attention to by the king.
When we have to carry within ourselves illness and diseases in body and spirit for a long time, we might complain to God and resent him. We cannot love God fully when we harbor complaint and resentment against him. As long as we still carry within ourselves sickness and suffering in our body and spirit even after having been treated in the hospital or by doctors and taken medication, we ask God to help us bear our cross of sickness and suffering for the love of God. We offer to God our sickness and suffering as to be united with Jesus’ suffering and cross for the salvation of souls including our own. We ask God to help us find meaning and purpose in our suffering and cross. Only by acceptance of suffering and cross with love, our cross can transform our lives and our suffering can become redemptive suffering.
A prayer to know how to love God and neighbor:
O Lord, our God! We thank you for coming
to teach us about the Two Greatest Commandments of love:
loving you fully and loving neighbor as ourselves.
Grant that we may live in a spirit of gratitude
to those gifts, you have given me big or small, much or little.
Teach me to recognize your image in others,
May I accept my situation, condition and content with my fate?
and compromise with life.
so that I may love you and others with my open heart. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong