Ordinary 31st Sunday
Ordinary 31st Sunday
Dt. 6: 2-6 Heb. 7: 23-28 Mk. 12: 28b-34
CROSS, NOT A PARALLEL TRACK
Love of God and of human go hand in hand and any imbalance between them makes the very love unreal.
Recently I came across a caption, printed on a T-shirt of a young boy, “If I am not near the girl I love, I love the girl near.” This is the type of culture in which we live. Anything is love and everything is love. Attachment, liking, attraction, craving… all these things are branded as love. Love has become a commodity. People change their friends as they change their dress. Even though all of us are craving for deeper love, somehow many of us don’t seem to offer and receive it.
For love to be true, genuine and deeper, it should have two dimensions: Love of humans and love of God. The relationship between these two dimensions of love is so intimate and intricate that when one dimension of love is not there, the other becomes spurious and shallow. Love of God without love of human becomes spurious; love of human without love of God becomes shallow. But the unfortunate thing is that we often witness these two dimensions being separated and divested.
a). Love of God devoid of love of others:
Judaism was a religion which, during the time of Jesus, gave importance to love of God over the love of others. The ‘Shema Israel’ (Dt. 6: 4 – the first reading) was considered to be most important of all the commandments. Love of God was enthroned to the extent that everything else was considered to be secondary. In order to manifest their love towards God, the Jews did so many things. They meditated on the Torah; they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Passover, of Tabernacle and of Atonement; they gave tithe; they offered various sacrifices demanded of them in the book of Leviticus; They wrote the Shema Israel on a plate and fixed it on the doorpost. This custom was known as mezuzah. The Pharisees and the scribes had even gone a step ahead. They had plates inscribed with Dt 6:4, and hung them in their hands. These plates were known as phylacteries (Mt. 23: 5).
However this love of God of theirs did not much get translated in their love for one another. While claiming that they loved God very much, the Jews did not hesitate to exploit the people around, especially the poor and the vulnerable. They did not know that without love of human beings, love of God can become sterile and self-conceit. They were not aware that what they practiced was just ritualism and pharisaism. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus points out how the priest and the Levite held love of God over love of human beings.
b). Love of human devoid of Love of God.
Looking at history, we understand that upholding love of God over, even at the cost of, love of human has led to various evils in society. Protecting the majesty and supremacy of God has become the predominant activity of many of the religious people, and it has led to have a complete disregard and disaffection towards all that is human and material. Humanness has been sacrificed at the altar of God. History informs us that a lot of heinous crimes have been committed by staunch believers without an iota of guilt, since they were done in the name of God. Martin Buber said, “Though many good things have been done in the name of God, equally many evil things too have been done in the name of God.”
Looking at such a sorry state of religions, many in the past and even today go to the extent of thinking that what we need more is the love of human, not the love of God. According to them, we need to shun away with all those things that are to do with God and give priority to human beings. ‘Forget God and think of man’ is their philosophy of life. They feel that love of God has to be overthrown and love of human has to be totally embraced.
We need to understand that such a position is more of a reaction to the over-ritualism of religions and the atrocities done in the name of God and does not have much of validity in itself. Even if we take the love of human alone seriously, sooner or later we have to land up in the love of God, since we, human beings, carry a dimension that is spiritual. If a person restricts oneself with the love of human alone, then it is unavoidable that one experiences stagnancy in one’s life and relationship. Love of human without love of God cannot take us very far.
c). Love of God and Love of Human
This was the approach of Jesus. He picked up a very insignificant commandment (Lev 19: 18) of the Torah and equated it with the most important of all the commandments (Dt 6: 4). It was not a mere equation, but rather an invitation. It is an invitation to complete love of neighbor with that of God, and to translate love of God into action that involves love of neighbor. The love of human that does not take us to God becomes destructive and abusive, since the vested interest of human beings begin to play a vital role. Similarly love of God that is not expressed in concrete actions towards fellow human beings is just bogus.
Unfortunately there are many Christians for whom their love of God has nothing to do with their love of neighbours and vice versa. For them, love of God and love of neighbor are like railway track – both are separate and distinct, and never meet each other. They forget that what we worship is a cross, not a railway track. As in the cross two wooden pieces meet and interject, in our daily life we need to skilfully integrate our love of God with that of neighbours.
Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exultate eloquently writes, “amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenceless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art. For “what endures, what has value in life, what riches do not disappear? Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches do not disappear!” (no. 65)