In our Gospel today, Jesus is once again being tested by the Pharisees. They’re looking for something that they can use against Him to condemn Him, so they ask Him to state the greatest commandment. They want him to say something that is blasphemous and against the Jewish beliefs. Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the Pharisees, and us as well, about how we should relate with others and how our relationship with God should be structured.
He tells us that the first commandment is that we must “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that this is the greatest commandment. What does that look like to say we love God? We show our love of God by first of all making sure that our faith is not a one-hour-a-week thing. It’s all too easy as Christians in the world today to fall into the trap of not letting our belief in God influence most of our lives. We will spend one hour a week at Mass, possibly some time driving to and from the church, but as soon as Mass is over, Christianity has no influence on our behavior. We act no different than anyone else in the world. We don’t allow our faith to influence our daily lives. We’ve done our hour a week with God, so we’re good, right? Not quite.
We must take time throughout our days for regular periods of prayer. Prayer should be a priority within our days. Now, this doesn’t mean entering into a monastery or becoming a priest, but it does mean spending some time throughout each day in prayer. If we truly love God, we’ll want to spend some time with Him.
A popular way of doing this is to say the Angelus Prayer three times throughout the day. At 7:00 AM, 12:00 Noon, and 6:00 PM, the bells here at the church ring for a minute or so to remind those in town to spend a little time in prayer. Another common way is to spend time driving, say between here and Miles City, praying a Rosary instead of listening to the radio. However we do it, we truly show our love of God by spending time with Him in prayer on a daily basis.
After talking about loving God, Jesus then brings up love of neighbor. He didn’t need to talk about the second commandment, as the Pharisee only asked about the first commandment. By mentioning the love of neighbor, Jesus shows that the two commandments are closely linked. Our love of neighbor comes out of our love of God. If we don’t have our relationship with God in right order, we won’t be able to truly have a relationship with those around us.
Christianity is not a “me and Jesus” thing, an idea that is very common in our culture today. We hear televangelists talking about a “personal relationship” with Jesus, promoting an individualistic faith where it’s between me and God, and other people don’t matter. In contrast, Jesus tells us that our love of God leads us to love our neighbor. Our relationship with God is not individualistic, but should lead us to be open to the larger community around us. If we truly want to follow Our Lord, we’re going to reach out to our neighbor.
How do we show this love of neighbor? Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” so we must be willing to reach out to those around us who are in need. I’ve personally experienced this following the death of my grandfather, where friends and neighbors prepared meals for us while we were making preparations for the funeral. We also can show our love of neighbor by listening to someone who is going through a difficult time. Love of neighbor is also shown through providing some necessity of life when someone is lacking these necessities, such as food or shelter.
We also show our love of neighbor by not talking negatively about them. Gossip is all too prevalent, and is very easy to fall into. It’s also very destructive of our relationships with those around us, as it frequently paints others in an overly negative light. All of us are influenced, in one way or another, by what we hear about others, and this affects how we interact with them. We all have our failings, and we must be willing to overlook the failings of those around us, just as we would want them to overlook ours.
As Christians, we are called to love God completely. May our love of God lead us to love our neighbor as ourselves.