Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Friends, every religion preaches a core message; Islam preaches obedience to the will of Allah (God); African Traditional Religion preaches justice (live and let live); Christianity preaches love.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus affirms that love of God is the first and the greatest commandment of the Law. In effect, all our love and energies should be directed towards the highest good which is God, not wealth, pleasure, fame, power, not even country or family.
These are all good but it is only when God is the centre of one’s life that they fall into place in one’s life.
However, as the Son who best knows the mind of God (the spirit of the Law), Jesus immediately adds that the 2nd commandment – love of neighbour as oneself equates to the first. True love therefore expresses itself in love of God, love of neighbour and love of self.
While love of oneself is not directly specified, loving your neighbour as yourself presupposes that you love yourself. Hence, loving oneself is ironically the basis of all loving; it leads to love of others which leads to love of God.
The call to love oneself should not be mistaken for a call to selfishness. On the contrary, it is a call to be content with oneself which counters the greed of selfishness.
It may sound odd but the reality is that many people do not really love themselves that much. A good number have low self-esteem; they don’t very much like what they see in the mirror and would dread people getting to know them as they see themselves.
This perhaps explains why so much is spent on wears, make-up, and image. Many chase various status symbols to show that they have ‘arrived’ – places of residence, cars, clothes and accessories are all carefully chosen to enhance image and make one feel better. There is obsession for ‘famous brands’ and these sell more than quality.
The escape of many into alcohol and drugs, and the increasing rate of teenage suicides, especially in our developed economies with affluence, entertainment and pleasure, is largely because so many have little love for themselves in the inside and also think that no one else really loves or could love them.
If we have difficulty loving ourselves, it will be difficult to open up in love to others. No one can give what they don’t have. But if I’m able to love myself in spite of my shortcomings, not minding what people think of me – that’s their problem, not mine, then, I can be open to loving and bearing with others in spite of their own imperfections.
Christianity’s message of love agrees with her view of life as a pilgrimage – the common journey of humanity towards God. When a group makes a journey as seen during marathons, it is inevitable that paths must cross in some way; people will step on people.
The last time I went on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in the course of the one mile rosary procession, I kept mistakenly stepping on the heel of the lady in front of me. This happened a couple of times more even after my apologies and sincere resolve to stop it. On occasions, the lady turned to give me a wry smile of disapproval but then she moves on.
If such a prayerful walk couldn’t go without incidents, imagine how incident-prone the lifelong journey of humanity could be – a hoard of unrelated people with different values and languages. If people begin to retaliate when paths inevitably begin to cross, there’ll be traffic jam in the journey of life. Without the rule of love, the journey will be impossible.
In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul notes that “love is patient and kind, overcomes anger and forgets offences. Love excuses everything and endures all things.” In an increasingly globalised and multi-cultural world, without love, humanity is coming together for a big bang.
In equating the love of God with the love of neighbour, Jesus makes clear that one does not love others just for God’s sake or to please God.
One does not go to God through others but one seeks, finds and loves God IN others. Remember, “As often as you did it to the very least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). Jesus identifies himself with those in most need of love and compassion: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and those in prison (irrespective of their crimes).
He is to be loved in the leper – the AIDS victim, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless of our time. He is also to be loved even in the enemy who threatens me – the person I hate the most is the one in most need of my love.
Love here is not is not just the emotional or romantic, according to the First Reading, it involves treating every person with deep respect, justice and compassion. It is a sincere desire that every person experience what is the very best for them.
The teaching equating the love of God with love of neighbour is quite pertinent in a world where some supposedly feel motivated by the love of God to hate and destroy their fellow human beings.
We see this not only in the activities of jihadists but among Christians. The persecution of Jesus and his followers was championed by well-meaning religious people motivated by what they believed to be zeal and love for God.
Paul as Saul was a good example of this travesty. Jesus prophesied that “an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God” (John 16:2).
There are many whose Christianity doesn’t extend to being open to people outside their own group. But “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).