We hear words today in our gospel reading that lots of us have heard many times before.
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind;” and,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Hearing familiar words like these today reminds me of the story of an old priest who met a member of his congregation who began to boast: “Father, I have been through the gospels many times.” Rather than praise him the priest said gently: “The important thing is not how often you have been through the gospels but how often the gospels have been through you.”
The purpose of the gospels that we read each week at Mass is not to recreate the words and works of Jesus ... but to let them recreate us.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says something to his apostles that we need to really contemplate deeply. He said:
“These people have become close-minded and hard of hearing.
They have shut their eyes so that their eyes never see.
Their ears never hear. Their minds never understand.
And they never return to me for healing!” Matthew 13:15
Sadly ... those words often describe us
We come to church with our ears and eyes so full of the cares of our world we don’t look or listen deeply with open minds and eager hearts. Our hearts and minds are so full of our own thoughts and worries that we don’t really let the words of the Gospels flow through us and change us. God’ wants this experience we share each Sunday – this time together – to so touch our hearts that we are changed by it; recreated in some small way.
Let’s listen again and this time try to hear it and let it deeply impact our hearts:
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart ...
with all ... your soul ... ... and with all ... your mind.”
“You shall love your neighbor as you love your very self.
Is this your experience ... ?
Do you really love the Lord God that way?
Does your love for Him consume all of you ... heart ... mind ... and ... soul?
To love God that way, like any loving relationship, requires spending time with Him – quality time. If you never give God any time, can you really love him like that?
Wouldn't it be transformative if we really lived this commandment? To "love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. And, love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Jesus placed love of neighbor alongside love of God for a reason, because he knows that they are completely linked. God can feel so distant that he’s hard to love that is why he gave us each other.
There is a story about a young woman who was in great distress because she had lost a sense of God in her life. She complained to her elderly grandmother, “Why doesn't God let me feel His presence? If only I could feel Him and know that He has touched me.” Her grandmother said, “Pray to God, right now. Close your eyes and pray to him. Ask Him to put out his hand and touch you.” The girl closed her eyes and prayed fervently. Then she felt a hand on her hand. “He touched me. He touched me,” she cried out. Then she said, “You know, his hand felt just like your hand.” “Of course it was my hand,” her grandmother said. “That’s how God works. He takes the hand that is nearest and uses that.”
Loving God and loving our neighbors are completely connected. That’s why Jesus answered the man’s question, that day, the way he did. Jesus knows the best way to connect to God, to love God, is to love someone. And the truth is we cannot truly love our neighbor apart from loving God. We cannot separate the two. We show our love for God, by the way we love our neighbor. "What you did for the least of mine you did for me," God said. And in the end that’s all that really matters.
Any of us who have had the privilege to be at the bedside of someone in their final moments, when they stand on the edge of eternity, know that you will never hear someone say, “Bring me my diplomas! I want to look at them one more time. Show me my awards, my medals, that gold watch I was given.” When life on earth is ending people don’t surround themselves with objects. What we want around us is people – people we love – and have relationships with. In our final moments we all realize that relationships are what life is all about. Love is all that matters in the end.
This is what Jesus is really saying to us today. He is saying: Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter unless it is about loving God, and loving the people he has made?
Today let’s all allow these words about love sink in deeply.
Let them go – through us – and change us, recreate us.
And then Jesus can heal us. And, use us to heal others.