Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, November 4, 2012, Thirty First Sunday, The Love Commandment, Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ



There have been many revolutions in the course of human history. In the first century B.C., Spartacus, a slave and gladiator, led a rebellion against Rome. The two revolutions are most familiar to us both took place in the late eighteenth century, the French Revolution and the American Revolution. The two last were very different in style, but both led to enormous changes that have changed the way we live now.

I would like to mention another revolution that occurred long before any of the revolutions that I have mentioned. The revolution I am speaking of had an even greater impact upon you if you are a Jew or a Christian. I am thinking of a revolution in the earliest days in Israel, and is usually associated with Moses: the revelation of Godself as one. We perhaps take that revelation for granted, but it was revolutionary at the time, and still is if we understand it correctly. Let me explain.

Before that time, people assumed there were many gods–a god who bestowed fertility on women, a god who protected the family against attack, a god who healed illness, a god who was the patron of the king. This view–polytheism–satisfied people. It explained the problem of evil, for example, for you could always blame illness and disaster on an evil god who was pleased to inflict pain and suffering. You could pray to another god, perhaps the god of your family or your tribe, to alleviate that suffering.

Such a perspective, however, was forbidden to Israel. Their God proclaimed to the people gathered at Mount Sinai: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God." (Exod 20:1-4). Why the change? Because God is personal and has entered into an intimate relationship with the children of Israel. God is so deeply involved in their lives, so committed to them, that he expects a like commitment from the people.

The people agree to this covenant: they will be the Lord’s people and respond with their whole heart and soul. This view that there is only one God and that we must serve God with our wholeselves continues to this day in Judaism and Christianity, as we learn from the speech of Moses in Deuteronomy, the first reading: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." The scribe in the Gospel got it right and Jesus praises him for it.

If the belief that the Lord is one and that we should serve him alone is so central, how did the second commandment–loving our neighbor–find its way into the basic belief? Did it sneak in when no one was looking? Well, no, because it is implied already in the ten commandments where the first three commandments are about our relations to God and the rest concern our duties to our neighbor. The command to love our neighbor follows from the fact that God has made a covenant with a people and not with a series of private individuals. We are God’s people (we often sing): "It is [the LORD who] made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture." As the members of holy community, we are bound to love and serve each other in order that God’s glory may be seen by all who look upon the church.

There are two more reasons why the love commandment goes in two directions–toward God and toward my neighbor. One is that every human being is made in the image of God, i.e., is a statue of God. Precious and important even when sometimes disagreeable and sinful, each human being deserves our love and respect because of who they are deep down. The second reason is that the Lord has entered into our lives so deeply that the Lord lives in each one of us. Remember the words that St. Paul heard when he was persecuting Christians: Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:3-5). Jesus had entered deeply and lovingly into the life of the community.

I began by speaking of revolutions that brought great change and even now influence the way we live now. But there is one revolution that is the greatest of all. It occurred at the time that Lord revealed himself to Israel and told them who he was–unique and deeply involved in their lives–and that revolution continues to be fought, because every day we need to respond to the Lord by keeping our commitment to love and serve.

We end with a prayer.

Lord our God, you are the one God and there is no other.

Give us grace to hear and heed the great commandment of your kingdom,

that we may love you with all our heart

and love our neighbor as ourselves.

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