Two Commands, Side by Side

Posted in: Homilies

October 29, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

October 29, 2017
Matthew 22:34-40
Fr. George Smiga

In today’s gospel, we receive the great commandment of Jesus. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest of all the commandments, he picks two of them. One is from the Book of Deuteronomy and one from the Book of Leviticus: We are to love God with all our heart. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now, which of these two commandments do you think is more difficult to follow? Is it harder to love God? Or is it harder to love our neighbor? We could argue about this question, but I think we could all agree that neither commandment is easy to obey. It is difficult to love God because God is invisible. We cannot touch or hear God. So when crisis enters our life, it is easy to wonder, “Is God present? Does God care?” It is difficult to love God because when bad things happen to us, it is hard to resist the question, “Why did God allow these things to happen? Why did my spouse die? Why is my son addicted to drugs? Why does my friend have cancer?”

It is difficult to love our neighbor because the people in our lives often treat us poorly. They can be selfish, deceptive, manipulative. They can hurt and betray us. It is difficult to love our neighbor because our neighbor can be different from us—different because of race, religion, or culture. People do not all think as we do. They have different goals and values. These differences can make us angry and afraid.

It is difficult, then, both to love God and to love our neighbor. But I think this difficulty is what motivated Jesus to make one commandment out of two, to place the love of God and the love of neighbor together. Because when these two commands are together, they are both easier to follow.

The love of our neighbor can help us love God. God is invisible, but the people God has given to us in our lives are not. We cannot touch or hear God, but we can touch our daughter and hear the words of a friend. So when we wonder whether God is present, whether God cares, the love we have for others can increase our faith. When bad things happen to us, we can lean on others whose faith is strong and thereby move beyond our doubts.

The love of God can help us love our neighbor. When our neighbor treats us poorly, we can remember that God created each person good and placed an inherent dignity in each person’s existence. That goodness can be hidden by poor decisions and sin. But when others irritate or hurt us, we can recall the goodness that each person possesses, and that can make us more patient and more able to forgive. When we become angry or afraid because of the differences among us, the love of God reminds us that God is the source of those differences. God did not make all people the same, but God loves each person equally and sees every person as a son or daughter. Remembering God’s love can help us love our neighbor across the differences that can divide us.

Jesus did not give us one great commandment but two. Jesus placed the love of God and the love of neighbor side by side, because when these two commandments are together, it is easier to follow both of them. So when your faith in God is weak, lean upon the love that you have for others. And when it is difficult to love your neighbor, remember your love for God. This is the way that we follow Jesus’ teaching. This is how we live as his disciples.

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