THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)
"Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this.. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
The above is from today's Gospel reading (Mk 12:28b-34). My question for you is this: When Jesus says there is no other commandment greater than these, is he doing away with the commandments given to the Isrealites by God through Moses? The answer is no, he is not. Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the old law, but rather to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). Rather than doing away with the Ten Commandments, what Jesus does in today's gospel is to get right to the heart of them.
The Ten Commandments are a great gift to mankind. I have heard people grumble that Christianity is all about the negative, telling people what they cannot do, and the Ten Commandments are the perfect example of this with all their "Thou shalt nots." My response to this is to laugh and point out that it was much more efficient for God to tell us the few things we can't do than to list out all the great multitude of good things we can do. Besides, knowing one's limitations can be freeing.
Imagine a playground for children that's set in the center of a small desert island in the south Pacific (I don't know why anyone would build such a thing, just go with it). The ocean currents are swift and dangerous, and so to keep the children safe, they have to stay huddled in the center of the island, for fear of getting too close to the shore and being swept away. Now if someone comes along and builds a fence around the perimeter of the island, the children can freely enjoy the whole island without fear. God's commandments are like that fence. They are not restrictive, but freeing, because they establish the safe boundaries for our lives. Stay within the perimeter of the commandments and you are free to enjoy all life has to offer without worry of being swept away by sin. It is only when we "jump the fence" that we are in danger. That's not freedom; it is spiritual suicide.
Jesus today shows us that God's commandments are not in fact based in negativity; they are based in love. First and foremost is the love of God. The first three commandments deal with this love.
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
All of these have to do with our right relationship with God. The rest of the commandments deal with how we relate to our neighbors. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means...
4. Honor your father and mother.
5. Don't murder.
6. Don't commit adultery.
7. Don't steal.
8. Don't lie.
9. Don't covet your neighbor's spouse.
10. Don't cover your neighbor's goods.
The fourth commandment can actually be considered a "hinge" between the first three and the last six. Jesus teaches us to call God our Father, and so the first father we must honor is the one "who art in heaven." Human parents derive their authority (and their position of honor) from the divine parent, God. And so we honor our fathers and mothers here because they are the first reflections of God for us as children. While we acknowledge God as our Creator, we know our parents had a hand in it, as well (we call the act of conceiving children procreation after all, because we assist in God's act of creation). They brought us into being, they teach us the ways of the Lord, instruct us in the faith, and show us what it means to be good and loving Christian people, with the hope of eternal life for us. And we honor them for doing those things.
And what if our human parents don't do those things, or don't do them well? We still honor them, perhaps not so much for what they are, but for what they ought to be; for what they could be in cooperation with God's grace.
We honor them not because we have to, but because we know it is right to do so. We honor them because we love them.
And that, dear students, is the motivation behind all of the Commandments -- love. When we break any commandment, it is a violation of love. We commit an unloving act, either against a fellow human being or against God himself. We do harm to a relationship (and to our own dignity). This is why we call Confession the Sacrament of Reconciliation -- because through it we are reconciled with God and with our neighbor.
St. Augustine once summed up the whole moral law in this way: "Love God. Then do as you will."
What he meant was not that it is okay for us to do anything at all, so long as we say we love God. What he meant was that if you truly love God you will not want to do anything that would damage your relationship with Him. You would not want to do anything that was against Love.
This is why Christ implores us to love God, not just a little, and not just on Sundays. We need to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength. It should be a fierce love. And likewise with our neighbors -- we don't just love them when it is convenient to do so, but we love them as we love ourselves, which means constantly and consistently wanting nothing but good for them. Our love of self should motivate us to become saints, so that we may enjoy eternity with God, in communion with the other saints and angels. We want our neighbors to be there, too, so we should be helping them to become saints in this life.
It's all about love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love of self. (In that order). Put that into practice and things start to make sense.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723