A woman finds a magic lamp. She starts rubbing it and a genie emerges. The woman asks the genie to grant her three wishes: 1. “When my husband sleeps, I want to always be by his side.” 2. “When he wakes up in the morning, I want to be the first thing he grabs.” 3. “I want him to take me everywhere he goes.” And whoosh . . . the genie turns the woman into a smartphone! (from Houston Chronicle, “Joke on us”, Dec. 3).
Everybody needs to love and to be loved. Love lies in our human nature because we are created in God’s image, and God is Love. God created life also so we should love God because He can give us life now and after.
Looking at today’s gospel, I wonder why Jesus’ answer to the scribe’s question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” was not taken from the first of the Ten Commandments, which says “You should worship God, you should not have any other gods besides me, etc.” Instead, He responded with, “You shall love the Lord your God…”. So why does Jesus put love first?
I think Jesus is very practical. We cannot believe someone invisible. But we can have faith in those whose love is visible in their actions for us. Similar to how children believe in their father/mother because they see their parents’ love in action. Love leads to faith.
Loving God requires our efforts to search for, to think of, to study about God then we can reasonably love Him. That’s how we can love God “with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.” An example of this is when we observe the universe and God’s numerous kindnesses advancing life. With gratitude, we love God with determination and have our faith in Him.
Loving God is more challenging than believing in God. We can believe something or someone yet that belief might not have an effect on us. However, real love requires action to be appreciated. Many people believe in God, but that belief makes no difference in their lives. Without a living faith, one cannot see the truth, and hence easily stumble when challenged – such as with terminal illness or the pandemic Coronavirus that is has killed about 5 million people in the world up to now.
What should we think of the pandemic? Does it help or wear down our faith? Is it a wakeup call for us to recognize that life on earth is short and temporary? Do these challenges help us see that life is a journey not the final destination of happiness?
If yes, then we need to spend time in something spiritual, such as to discipline ourselves to take up our cross daily, to go through the narrow gate and to look for the eternal life.
In challenges such as the pandemic or incurable illnesses, we might not see the goodness of God as we want despite how hard we pray. Therefore, our faith is shaken. Here, we need to love God more than ever because in love, we see only good things of other, of situations.
People in love accept everything from each other though they do not clearly understand. When we love God, we see good things out of bad things. We do not see the pandemic or illnesses as punishment. Instead, we see these trials as loving reminders of our final destiny: in Heaven, with God. In these trials, we are also given a chance to humble ourselves to proclaim that, “You are my Lord, and my God”. Love sustains our faith in times of trouble.
Yet, loving God is not complete without loving others.
God shows us His love through many marvelous things. We feel heard when God answers our petitions. Our faith is so strong to the point that sometimes we put faith before love. We do this when we feel angry with our children because they don’t pray, don’t go to the church; or when we look down on others who are not religious as ourselves. Even worse, we are willing to violate others’ free will if they deny God.
In dealing with those who are different than us in practicing of faith, we tend to use violence – through words or action – to force others to do something that we want them to do. Exaggeratedly speaking, we can say that loving God exclusively can make us a fanatic who is willing to abuse religion even to kill anyone different in faith – as it still happens today in some countries. We use our faith for our egos, not in conjunction with love.
Thus, loving God is not complete without also loving others. That is why Jesus weaves the two elements together from today’s first reading (Dt 6:6) and Leviticus (19:18 b) into the commandment that we summarize as “love God and love others as ourselves”.
Why does Jesus emphasize that we “love others as ourselves”?
Loving others not as ourselves is fairly easy because we might love them the way we want, with conditions. We might do charitable things to impress others, to ease our conscience, but ultimately, we are doing it for our ambition, our will. We end up using others instead of loving them.
Observing Jesus’ life, we see that the most important aspect of loving others as ourselves is to help them recognize their dignity. The adulterous woman in the gospel of John recognized her dignity by Jesus’ attitude of non-condemnation. The prodigal son recognized his dignity as a son not a slave to return to his father. The passion of Christ helps us to understand that the most valuable of human being is our dignity instead of possessions, power, position, or title. We are so valuable that the Son of God emptied himself to become a man, like us, to redeem us by His cruel death on the cross. Once we realize our dignity, just as nobody throws the precious pearl to pigs, so too, we would not devalue ourselves with sins.
Such that is in a family, loving each other means not only caring but also respecting, listening, and accepting each other, especially our children. Once our children recognize they are valuable because God created them in His likeness, they will try to keep that image with a good lifestyle.
For a couple, regarding dignity, their love for each other should help them grow in virtue by courageously correcting each other’s mistake, rejecting their bad habits, and trying to become the best lovers.
In a community of faith, the laity will feel valuable if their voices are heard, their comments are welcomed, their talents are used for the common good, and they would feel valuable because of the services they receive – well prepared and respectfully.
Love God and love others as ourselves is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” in term of atonement. How could that be?
Looking at Jesus, we see that He proved His love by humbly submitting His will to God’s will and accepting the sacrifice. We also sacrifice ourselves in term of time, money spent for others, and especially sacrificing our own “self” to do good things – not for us, but for others – according to God’s will. Abandoning our will is not easy, but just as Jesus sacrificed His will by accepting death to achieve the redemption for us, we can atone our sins by our own sacrifices.
Humility is the foundation of other virtues. It will help us to recognize our weaknesses and to take the beam out of our own eyes to see ourselves better. The sickness can be cured only if we see it as a disease. With humility, we come to God as the great physician to be healed which is worth “more than all burnt offerings” as it says in Psalm 51: “For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (v. 18-19).
To conclude, loving God and loving others as ourselves will help us to become holy. It enables us to control ourselves in our lifestyle and in words and actions towards others. We need love to know clearly who we are, what we need, where we go and how to get there. It’s easy to know but not easy to do. May God give us strength to love God and others as ourselves.