Saint John wrote this description of God in his first letter, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
Many times we reflect on this love on Trinity Sunday. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. The bond between the three is love.
Our access to experiencing this love is through Jesus, the Son of God. In Him we know the love of the Father and the Spirit.
Jesus often speaks of the Father and He as being “one.” He says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30)
Earlier this year we heard Him say, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27). The Spirit is sometimes described as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. So love is a powerful description of who God is in Himself.
God loves us. The first manifestation of His loves comes in the creation of the world. He created the world. He then created man: male and female. In love, He created us in his image and likeness, giving us the ability to love. Likewise in love, He entrusted the whole of creation to us. When we turned away from Him, He still loved. In fact, He took many steps to save us, or redeem us, by His love. So we call Jesus Lord, or Savior, or Redeemer.
The ultimate expression of God’s love was offering His Son for our salvation. Jesus freely laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s plan. Recall His words, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
He does this in love for the Father but at the same time for we His flock. He speaks about this when he says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) So God is love and God loves us.
Love is the essence of life. Jesus teaches us about this love in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy. When asked by the “scholar of the law” what is the greatest of the commandments, Jesus gives the famous twofold answer.
First, he quotes the “shema” from the Book of Deuteronomy. (“Shema” is the introduction to this command in Hebrew and it is the expression the Jewish people use for this passage; literally it means “Hear.”)
The command is, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Jesus continues, “This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Jesus is telling us that our love of God involves the whole of who we are. His love for us is all encompassing and so our love of Him involves every aspect of our lives, every part of our person.
So how do we do that?
Jesus shows us how. Certainly, He does this through worship and praise, prayer and thanksgiving. Listening to Jesus and following Him is also an act of love.
Our response to Him we call “faith,” involves an active listening and then doing.
We hear Him speak, we watch Him live (and die), and we seek to live our lives in imitation of Him.
This is the “how” of keeping the commandment. But also involved and essential to keeping this command is what Jesus articulates next for He says, “The second is like it [the first commandment].”
Jesus then says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus raises the proper relationship between people to a whole new level.
The love of neighbor is also the love of God.
Love unites us and binds us together with God but also with each other.
Now there are two aspects of this love in this second greatest commandment.
First, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor “as yourself.” God, who loves us into being and saves us, makes us worthy of love. Hence, we have to love ourselves. Not as the world loves but as God loves.
Then we need to love our neighbor. The first reading from Exodus gives us some examples on how to love from the law/covenant. Caring for the widow, the orphan, and the alien/foreigner is important. These represent the people in those days who were in the most need.
The passage also gives a teaching that we should not “take advantage” of one who is in need. The Law and the Prophets give many other examples of loving neighbor and treating them with love, compassion and mercy.
In Saint Luke’s telling of this teaching, after Jesus’ answer the scholar of the law asks another question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus gives the answer by telling a story – the story of the Good Samaritan. Like the first, the best example of keeping this commandment is to look at the life of Jesus. He lived a life of mercy and compassion.
He reached out to those in need. He formed bonds of friendship and companionship with many and as mentioned already he laid down His life for His friends. So we are called live lives of love: love of God, love of ourselves and love of neighbor.
God is love. He invites us into His Presence, into His life. The sacraments open the door for us into this divine life of love. Living lives of love help us to experience the riches of the life He intends for us.
Jesus once said, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
The love of God has no bounds, it is eternal and ever present.
Our love has the opportunity to respond in deeper and fuller ways for we are always growing.
The abundance of life that Jesus promises is experienced the more we love.
And so Jesus tells us, “”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.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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