Exodus 22:21-27; Ps. 18; 1Thess.1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
We have four homily notes here; please scroll down the page and be blessed. Do have a lovely week ahead!
Fr. Evaristus Okeke:Love is all-encompassing
Fr. Udochukwu Ibekwe: The Mark of Christianity
Fr. Paul Oredipe: Love of God and Neighbour as Yourself
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: The Greatest Commandment
Fr. Evaristus Okeke:
Love is all-encompassing
Often times we have encountered the theme of Love in the liturgy; often times, we have heard people talk about love and even demonstrate it. It seems as though whenever the topic is raised, there is nothing new to say about it. Ask a little child to say something about Love, and the child will not disappoint you; he/she will even perfectly quote Jn.3:16. One thing we say when talking about Love is that it is all-encompassing. The people of Israel understood Love is this sense. For this reason, we can never exhaust Love both in talking and in practice.
The first reading of today is part of the Code of the Covenant. The Code of the Covenant is a collection of laws and customs which tries to apply the spirit of the Decalogue to concrete life situations. The Israelites understood that the purpose of the Decalogue was for them to love more. So, they broke down the rules to more than 613 for it to cover every aspect of life so that their love can be all-encompassing. Thus the numerous laws were treated as Sacred as the Decalogue itself.
From the above, it becomes easy to understand the “test” in the question the Pharisees put before Jesus in today’s gospel reading: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” This question aimed at inducing Jesus to making a selection which will negate the all-encompassing nature of Love. If he had picked any of the commandment as the greatest, it would mean that he is recommending more obedience to it than the others.
By so doing, he would be accused of limiting the application of love in other aspects of life. So, no matter which of the commandment Jesus would have selected, he would be thought to be contradicting love; for true love is all-encompassing. Now, God is love; He cannot contradict Himself. So, should Jesus contradict love, it would mean that Jesus is not God. This was the trap set by the Pharisees for Jesus.
In answering the Pharisees, Jesus was more interested in using the opportunity to teach about Love than in antagonizing them. From his response, rather than contradict love, Jesus further stressed the all-encompassing nature of Love. Every true love must take into cognizance both God and man. Without this unity, there can be no love. When you carefully consider the times Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the Scribes, it was always on the account of attempting a separation between this essential unity of loving God and loving man.
For example, in Matt. 22:15-22, Jesus was asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. The test here was to see if Jesus will approve giving money to God alone. In giving money, we must also be loving; so, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. We are not loving if we give to Caesar what belongs to God or if we give to God what belongs to Caesar. Caesar here represents our fellow humans. The Pharisees were hypocrites for they showed themselves to be loving persons whereas they neglected their responsibilities towards “Caesar”.
Beloved, to love God and man are the two hinges of authentic love. Check, anywhere love is abused, it is as a result of attempting a separation. We cannot love man without loving God; this is because it is from loving God that we will learn what love is and how to demonstrate it to others. You cannot teach what you are ignorant of. So, do not say “my Christianity is in my heart, I do not have to go to Church; provided I do good to people, ‘I move’”. Love is headless without temple-worship. Today the psalmist says: “I love you, Lord, my strength”. The love we are to show to others is that which God showed to us in Jn.3:16. This love does not take advantage of others. The first reading condemns taking advantage of the vulnerability of others.
On the other hand, we cannot love God without loving man. This would mean that we do not yet understand the God that we claim to love. Jesus clearly exemplified this in the story of the Good Samaritan. There are people who are very docile in Church but terror at home; some are ready to work day and night in the Church but will never be responsible at home; some will prefer to run errands for the Priest than fulfil their obligations at home. Sometimes, the Priest never gets to discover this double personality in such persons, and he is accused of condoling hypocrisy. Any charity that does not begin at home is not motivated by Love; it has ulterior motives. Do what you should do at home and do what you should do in Church.
In the gospel acclamation, Jesus says: “If a man loves me, he will keep my words”. Does this also mean that if we love our neighbour, we will keep our neigbour’s words? Not exactly! The Word of God contains how we should love our neighbour. In loving our neighbour, we must not be disobeying God. So let us be careful not to sin all in the name of trying to please man.
Beloved, Love has become a household word but the understanding and the practice of it is still obscure to many. Thus, in our daily prayers, let us ask the Lord to teach us how to love more and more. God Bless You!
Fr. Udochukwu Ibekwe:
The Mark of Christianity
“Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers …” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10)
Our Readings today make us at Home with the Mark of Christianity and one could ask what is this Mark of Christianity? And that is Love, this is because love summarizes the salvific work of creation and redemption and it also certifies the function of grace and the saving effects of divine justice and mercy.
Our Gospel from Matthew 22:34-40, celebrates the great commandment of love. To love our neighbour as God does, prejudices based on race, religion or colour have to go. The revelation at Mount Sinai prompted a sense of fairness towards others, deeper than specific commandments. Jesus demonstrates a life of utterly unselfish loving, and invites us to make that our guide to life. For St Paul, this imitation of Christ is the core of spirituality
All our texts today suggest one clear and practical principle: loving God involves doing practical justice in our world. But even our superficially Christian society is full of people who show little respect for love or justice. Political and economic life is ruled by values far from those of the Gospel. Greed, and fierce desire for power and profit can be seen in our daily papers. We are closer to the paganism mentioned in Paul’s letter than we may imagine. Today no less than then, the world is hostile to what Jesus represents, and it is hard for us to take a stand even on important issues of justice and compassion. Our Lord shows love of God and genuine love of the other as two basic aspects of the same call. There can never be a contradiction between the two, even though one may sometimes feel trapped in a situation where a particular law of Church or State seems to create a contradiction.
An approach to the second commandment about love could be by reflecting on how we love ourselves. Love of neighbour becomes virtually impossible in the age of self-hatred in which some fearful, discouraged people can find themselves. Loving the other as oneself only becomes possible if we have, or can grow into, a healthy, sane level of self-appreciation. This is a sound psychological principle, which should be mentioned in our churches even though Christian love transcends all the transient vogues of psychology. Its ideal is the example of Christ himself, with also his commitment to justice for the poor.
Dear Brothers and Sister in the Lord, today’s readings invite us to reflect on how well we receive strangers, make them feel at home in our society and in our church. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” They are distinct from us, and, often, different from us. The saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” expresses the evident truth that like attracts like. It is tempting to frequent the company of people like ourselves. Yet, the Lord gathered about himself a community of great diversity. Even within the twelve there was to be found a tax-collector and a zealot, men from opposite ends of the political spectrum. In a similar way, the Spirit of the Lord at work in our lives prompts us to connect with those who are different from us, as well as those who are like us. The one we find initially strange can reveal the Lord to us in surprising ways. We pray for a greater openness to the many ways the Lord comes to us in life.
Again, Dear Brothers and Sisters, Life is becoming increasingly complex and extremely difficult especially in a country like ours: Nigeria. Looking at the situation we are into in our country today, is it possible that there are people who still do not know the greatest of all the commandments? This answer is very much evident as we reflect on the untold hardship of our present day life in this country. A country where the leaders are blind to the plight of the people and deaf to the cries of the masses, a country with daily increase in police brutality, gruesome murdering of innocent citizens, a country with lack of means of livelihood and abuse of human right:Right to life, freedom of worship, of expression, of speech etc. One can virtually say that the Nigerian Society and indeed the world is still ignorant of the greatest of all commandments which is the Call to love, hence, the lawyer been represented today by our presidents, governors, house of Representatives, House of Assemble members, our commissioners and ministers, our Bishops and Priests etc should eschew pride and approach the Lord to still ask him again: Master, which is the greatest of all commandments? Who knows if He will not enlighten us and remind us it’s LOVE.
The capacity of Jesus to get to the heart of every matter is clear from his response to the question put to him by one of the Pharisees in today’s gospel reading, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” In the time of Jesus there were known to be 613 commandments in the Jewish Law. The potential here to miss the wood for the trees was enormous. Preoccupation with the detail of regulations could result in people ignoring what really matters, like straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel (Mt 23:24). Jesus answered the Pharisee’s question by going straight to the heart of the Jewish law. He was asked if there is one “greatest” commandment, but in reply he named the second greatest commandment as well. For the first commandment, loving the Lord your God with all our heart and soul, is inseparable from the conjoined commandment, of loving my neighbour as myself. For Jesus, what God wants from us above all else is love. There is no genuine love of God unless it finds expression in love of our neighbour. Love of neighbour, in turn, presupposes a healthy self-love, recognizing and appreciating myself as fundamentally good, because I am created in the image and likeness of God..
No one could disagree with the ideal of loving God and loving one’s neighbour. In preaching this can be a difficulty, in that no one who joins in the Sunday Eucharist would deny this principle.
But it’s possible to politely listen and agree, without feeling drawn to any practical conclusion for living. It is clear that Paul mixed closely with the communities whose lives he shared and the authority of his word seems to have sprung from the quality of his life. His attitudes and work-habits were in tune with the message that he delivered. His commitment to the task was evidenced by the troubles he had to bear, while spreading the good news. There was an intrinsic link between what he said and how he lived. The word spoken gave meaning to the life lived and the quality of the life guaranteed the sincerity of the word.
The people of Thessalonica accepted his message and found that it had a power to change their own outlook on life. Paul names their experience “joy of the Holy Spirit.” They touched the living Spirit of God in the midst of their own lives.
Genuine human concern that touches lives is an effective sacrament of the transcendent love of God. The love of God is actually enfleshed in the nitty-gritty of human interpersonal relationships. The authenticity of our religion is guaranteed by the value of our love for real people. One could use the image of the flower that is rooted in the soil; it grows slowly by transforming the elements of the soil in to its own living cells and eventually reaches up to the beauty of the sky with its own form, colour and scent. The one sap enlivens the root, the stalk, the flower and produces the perfume.
A truly Christian life is rooted in the earth and yet reaches up to the mystery of God through living in love. Another possible development might stem from Paul’s notion of the Thessalonians reputation spreading through the surrounding area. People were drawn to the Christian faith by the way these people were leading their lives. The word of the good news diffused itself quietly through people admiring the way the Christians lived.
People can be quick to condemn those who have offbeat values or live a different lifestyle. We can fail to appreciate the faltering efforts others make to cope with the struggles of frail human nature. If we could plumb the depths of meaning in our own personal life histories we might be able to forge more effective link with others. The gift of our humanity, savoured and appreciated, can become mirror and window to the mystery of God for ourselves. It can be more a more effective means of evangelization than all the hype of religious words that often only confirm the “converted” in their convictions.
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Today we all know these two great commandments, but no one had ever put together those two isolated verses before Jesus did. Here in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that the second command is like the first; that is, it is equal to the first. You have to love God and you have to love your neighbor. Jesus delivered this message to people who were trying to trap him. They approached Him without love, and He taught them love.
In combining the two commandments, Jesus goes beyond the extent of the question put to Him and joins to the greatest and the first commandment a second, that of love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The double commandment is the source from which the whole law and the prophets are derived. Jesus does not discard other commandments. He explicitly adds: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus’ answer declared that what God wants from us above all else is love. Our love is due first to God, but there is no genuine love of God unless it finds expression in love of our neighbor. Love of neighbour, in turn, presupposes a healthy self-love, recognizing and appreciating myself as fundamentally good, because I am created in the image and likeness of God. To love the neighbour, especially the vulnerable neighbour, is to love the Lord.
The great theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, points out that the second commandment, to love our neighbor, is a consequence and result of the first; because when man is truly loved, then God is loved, for man was made in the image and likeness of God. If we genuinely love God, we will also love our neighbors, because we realize that they are all our brothers and sisters. We are all children of the same Father. We are all redeemed by the same blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Love of God and love of neighbour as the fulfillment of the law exists in very early Hebrew Scriptures. There is something unique, however, in Jesus’ assertion that they are alike. Jesus teaches that we cannot have one without the other. Motivation to love our neighbour springs from our love of God. Our love of God is demonstrated and strengthened by our love of neighbour.
Love of neighbor is not only a love that is demanded by the love of God, an achievement flowing from it. It is also in a certain sense its antecedent condition. There is no real love for God that is not, in itself, already a love for neighbor; and love for God comes to its own identity through its fulfillment in a love for neighbour.
The novelty is in his placing these two commandments together — love for God and love for neighbour — revealing that they are in fact inseparable and complementary, two sides of the same coin. You cannot love God without loving your neighbour and you cannot love your neighbour without loving God.
Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (19:18; cf. Mark 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”
Jesus answered the deliberately tricky question, saying quite simply: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (vv. 37-38). In fact, the main requirement for each one of us is that God be present in our lives. He should, as the Scripture says, penetrate all levels of our being and fill them completely. The heart should know Him and let itself be touched by Him, and thus also the soul, the energies of our will and determination, as well as intelligence and thought. One could say, as St Paul did, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
In the Second Reading, Paul reminded the Thessalonians [1 Thess. 1:5-10] of his living example among them for their sake so that they may grow in Christ. Paul’s example is also the Lord’s example. (“Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” [1 Cor. 11:1]) To fully live one’s Christian life, it is necessary to “become imitators of God, as beloved children, to live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Eph. 5:1-2] The examples of St. Paul and many other Christians shined in the love of Christ so others may know the way of Christ. [1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7-9]
Then Jesus said that on those two Commandments hangs the Law and the Prophets. The words mean that in those two Commandments are found the entire revelation of the Old Testament. To have the love of God as Christ enjoyed it, our acts of love should be towards God first and then our neighbours. Our neighbours include everyone, our families, our friends and even strangers. Our love for God must be greater than the love we have for our parents, our brothers and sisters, our spouse and even our children.
And the love that we have for our parents, our brothers and sisters, our spouse and our children should be equal to the love we have for everyone else because we are all one large Christian family through Jesus in the Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. If we discriminate towards one person within the Body of Christ, then we do not have the love of God in us.
If we break the second commandment by not loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, then we do not love God. We may say that we love God, but in reality, we do not love God. For as Jesus frequently said, what you do to others, you do to Him. If you give someone a drink of water, you are giving a drink of water to Jesus. If you dress the naked, you are giving clothing to Jesus. If you feed the hungry, you are feeding Jesus. Through the second commandment shines the first commandment. If you love others by your actions, you love God. Why else would you care about the others? It is because you love God and your actions are actions of love, love in Christ Jesus.
One of the beautiful things about Christianity is that it is very simple. Jesus gave us two commands that sum up everything. He told us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
God is love and God has poured forth love upon this planet, this universe, upon every one of us. And if we let ourselves dwell on that, we can’t help but be filled with gratitude and joy.
In the gospel lesson Jesus shows the same thing Himself. These Pharisees had come to trap Him. They wanted to upset His popularity, turn the people against Him. But He does not rail out against them. He is very patient to their questions and respectfully answers them. He shows us how to love our neighbor.
It is very important to understand here that loving God with all of one’s mind, body and soul entails a lot of sacrifice, and of course, a lot of humility. Loving God is the most important perquisite for being God-like and going to heaven. The second dimension of love is the horizontal, which is: “You must love your neighbour as yourself?” This is pretty more difficult than the first because, we neglect and take it for granted so much by thinking that we can love just God alone, and enough without our neighbours.
However, in actual sense, the best way of expressing our love for God is through the way we deal with our neighbours. This is because, life is relational and humans being gregarious must relate well and positively with others. We must affect others positively in order to love God well.
This is why the Scripture says: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4, 20). By declaring that the second commandment is similar to the first, Jesus implies that loving your neighbour is as important as loving God. In fact, a visible sign that the Christian can show the world in order to witness to God’s love is love for our brothers and sisters.
Even the First Reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, insists on the duty of love; a love witnessed concretely in relationships between persons, which must be relationships of respect, collaboration, generous help. The neighbour to be loved is the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the needy, in other words, those citizens who have no “defender”. The holy author goes into details, as in the case of the object pawned by one of these poor persons (cf. Ex 22: 25-26). In this case God himself is the one to vouch for the neighbour’s position.
So our love for God must be manifested in and through our neighbours. It takes love to be charitable, love to be merciful, love to be faithful to God and his mission towards humanity, love to reach out to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the oppressed, the weak, the sick, and the homeless. It really takes love to be humble, patient and kind. In fact, it takes love to be lovable and godly.
So this Sunday, knowing that on our own we cannot love enough, let us join the psalmist in making this profession of love to God from whom we derive the strength to love our neighbours as our selves: “I love You, Lord, my strength!”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
The Greatest Commandment
In the New Testament the greatest commandments were identified as Love of God and love of people: The first three of the ten were about God; while the other seven were about man. Thus, when Jesus was asked “Which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The first one: Christ says we must love God “with all our heart”. The heart, is the most profound and most personal part of the human person – the core of intimacy. So, Jesus wants us to enter into a personal relationship with God. Again, he says “with all our soul”. The soul is the seat of human desire. Ps.42:1 the bible says “As the deer yearns for flowing streams, so my soul yearns for you, my God…” Therefore, to love God we must have an active longing for him, for holiness, for righteousness. Lastly, Jesus says “with all your mind”. The mind is the intellectual home of the human person. It is the faculty of consciousness and thought. So, Jesus wants us to study and understand the truth of God revealed in the scriptures and to make a decision arising from the will. Jerome says: Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of God.
The second one: Christ says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact this two commandments form one virtue. For we cannot love God without loving our neighbour and vice versa. 1John 4:20-21 says “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” Therefore, genuine love begins from those we see. Who are these people? The first reading says they are our neighbors. So, Moses teaches the Chosen People never to wrong, exploit, cheat, enslave, or in any other way to take advantage of an alien, a widow or an orphan. One who loves his neighbour must not cheat, enslave and oppress him. Lack of love is one of the fundamental reasons we suffer in this country. Where love is absent evil is present. A man who cannot love cannot serve. Your love scores your level of service. Moses also wants us to love strangers – in the Parable of the Good Samaritan it is called ‘The Universal Love’ – ability to love strangers; ability to love those who don’t follow the rule; ability to love sinners while we hate their sins; ability to love those who reject the teaching of the Church, this is the kind of love Pope Francis expressed for homosexuals that was translated as approval for homosexuality.
Again, Moses warns against undue charging of interest just to take advantage of another; he frowns at deals that make the poor poorer. Obviously, this is the method of operation in this country today. Every deal makes the poor poorer. Even amongst ourselves we lead people into deals just for us to acquire their hard earned money. Beloved, we are reminded to love. God hates oppression. Zechariah 7:10 says “do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” It was in the face of oppressions Moses was sent to protest against Pharaoh in Exd. 9:1 the bible says “Then The Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him that this is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.” When Moses entered into this business it was not easy for him ; yet he did not give up! So in this country we are not giving up… they may have prevailed but it is for a moment. Just as the people of Israel eventually prevailed over the hardened Pharaoh that is how this generation shall eventually prevail over bad governance and oppression if we don’t give up.
In the second reading, we are made to understand that Paul and his companions imitated Christ, and the Thessalonians imitated them. So, all the believers and those who could come to believe in Macedonia and Achaia could see Christ in the Thessalonians and imitated them. Beloved in Christ; people around us should see Christ in us. By our example and words, we are to proclaim Christ. Can people see us and see Christ in us? Today, we shout in churches and go back to our offices to recycle hatred; we sit on top people’s salaries; we habour their food. Recently, the palliatives meant for the poor were discovered in different parts of this country. A prove of how greed has injured our country. Christ has given us a way out; he says we must love. Love can restore the human society. The true basis of all democracy is in fact the love of God. Take away the love of God you will hate human nature. Beloved, Christianity is not an abstract theory but a reality! Christianity is the practice of Love. In John 13:35 Jesus says “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. Christ conquered the world with love. Love is the safest and surest weapon if we must conquer this world. May God give us the grace to restore our world through love. Amen!