31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     In today’s Gospel, one of the scribes tried to trick Jesus into saying which of the commandments was the greatest. Since all 10 commandments were given by God they would all seem to have infinite importance and thus to choose one over the other would almost seem blasphemous. Yet Jesus does not fall into the trap and summarizes all 10 commandments by citing Moses in today’s first reading that we must love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves.

     In summarizing all the commandments into these two great commandments Jesus gives us the guiding principle of living out our Christian faith. He teaches us that in loving our neighbor, we love God. For “in the least of our brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God. … Love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God. …. Closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”[1]

     There is no doubt, at times loving our neighbor as ourselves is difficult, yet God commands it, so how do we live it out? I think the first step to following the commandment of Christ, is to recognize that our call to love our neighbor as ourselves is a command from God. It is something that we must choose to do regardless of how we feel about it. While having good feelings is nice and there are many preachers who preach a gospel of nice feelings, Christianity is far more than being polite and kind to others. Jesus doesn’t command us to be nice, He commands us to love. Jesus doesn’t really care how we feel. He commands us to love our neighbor, in what we do to them, in what we do for them, and in how we act towards them.

     You see while feelings are important, they cannot be decisive. After all, we don’t choose our feelings. None of us wakes up in the morning and says, “today I think I’ll feel sad”, and none of us wakes up in the morning and says, “today I’ll feel mad.” No, we have little control over our feelings; they seem to come and go. Love and commitment, on the other hand, are choices that we do have control over.

     Think about those you love the most. While there was probably a period of intense feelings for that person at the beginning of the relationship, did you not at some point make a conscious choice to love that person? Did you not at some point come to a point where you choose to love that person regardless of how you felt about them? Isn’t it true that “love is the only way to grasp another human being in the inner most core of his personality?”[2]

     The experience of true love shows us, that love is hard work because it’s not just an idea or an emotional feeling. True love challenges us to change the way we live our life. True love takes a hold of our whole being. For when we truly love, we love with our whole heart, our whole soul and with our whole mind. While we may get upset at those we love, our love for them endures through those bad emotions, because we have made the choice to love.

     My friends, this is the love that God commands we have for Him and for each other. While feelings can be good, when it comes to living the commandment to love others we have to step back from our feelings and make decisions. If we want to follow the path Christ has traced for us, we must choose daily, regardless of how we feel, to care for our neighbor. This starts with those whom God has placed closest to us, people in our family, in our workplaces. We need to put our emotions aside and pay attention to our relationships. Rather than focus on how we feel towards another person, we need to focus on what we say and how we treat others. We must try to grow in our friendliness, in showing respect, in being more understanding of others’ failings and weaknesses.

     Friends, so often our emotions dictate how we act. Today Jesus challenges us to move past emotion to make choices. In summarizing the commandments Jesus gives us the backdrop for following Him. He calls us to love Him above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The choice is ours. Will we become slaves to our emotions or will we experience the freedom of love? Will we let our emotions dictate our actions or will we choose to love God, by loving those He brings into our lives?

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, paragraphs. 15-16. Accessible at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html

[2] Viktor E Frankel. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press. (2006) Pg 111.

 

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