When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Today’s gospel reflection reminds us to love one another.
From the time we are born we need many things in order to grow and mature. Food, shelter, clothing, education, health — the list goes on and on. There’s one item, however, that is as essential as salt is for food; everything done to help a person grow has to be done in love. The most basic human need is to love and to be loved. But what does it mean to love?
It’s not a matter of spending time reading books and studying. Perhaps that can help us understand and appreciate what love is, but it isn’t love. What does love look like? In the words of Saint Augustine, “It has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.” Love is living always in an attitude of thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and for the love that created that life. Love means placing oneself at the service of others. Love is to have for others and for ourselves the same compassion that God has for us.
The love that Christ commands is not easy, even for people who are blessed with great natural warmth of heart. And it is not impossible, even for those of us who tend to be impatient and short-tempered. For Christian love is not a vague feeling of affection for someone. It is rather a condition of the heart and will that causes us to seek the welfare of others, including people we don’t particularly like, and even people who have done us wrong. Today’s Gospel reminds us of this central point of the Christian message: To love God and to love one’s neighbor. The God who created us with the basic need to be loved and to love tells us that our salvation consists precisely in loving and being loved. To love puts us in relationship with others and takes us out of our own little world. Love isn’t a question of obeying one more commandment: To love God and neighbor is the center of the Christian life.
There was a bus that was bumping along a back road in the South. In one seat a wispy old man sat holding a bunch of fresh flowers. Across the aisle was a young girl whose eyes came back again and again to the man’s flowers. The time came for the old man to get off. Impulsively he thrust the flowers into the girl’s lap.
“I can see you love the flowers and I think my wife would like for you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” The girl accepted the flowers, and then watched the old man get off the bus and walk through the gate of a small cemetery.
That story reminds us of the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who said, “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.” Living the Gospel is nothing else than living love, giving life, placing oneself at the service of others, so that they may have life and have it in abundance.