Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt. 6:2-6; Heb. 7:23-28; Mk. 12:28-34
In 1967 the Beatles were asked to write a song with a message that could be easily understood by everyone. “All you need is Love” soon rose to the top of the charts. As the band's manager said, "It was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the world a message. The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything."
John Lennon later attributed the song's simple lyrical statements to his liking of slogans and television advertising and compared the song to a propaganda piece, "I'm a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change," John was quoted as saying.
Written in the midst of the Vietnam War, the song promoted the belief that everything was possible if we had love. Love could even lead to peace.
While seen as fanciful by many at the time, the sentiments expressed in the song capture the message of today’s Scripture readings and express the hopes that many of us have for our world.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses calls on the Israelites to love God alone. In the Gospel, when Jesus is asked to name the first of all the commandments, He repeats Moses’ words, “You shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” But then Jesus adds a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
St. Augustine’s often quoted words,” Love God and do whatever you please: for the person who loves God will do nothing to offend God,” expands on Jesus’ Gospel message. Simply put, if you really love God, you will love and respect others. To avoid offending God, one must love one’s neighbor. That makes things very difficult for many people.
It is easy to follow the commandment to love God. Who would not want to do that? Loving one’s neighbor however, complicates things. Jesus did not define neighbor as the one who looks or thinks like me. He meant everyone.
What Jesus and Augustine are telling us is that if we profess to love God (and what believer of any faith would deny that?), we must also love others, including those who are different from us. In order to do that, we have to reach out beyond ourselves and whatever constitutes our comfort zone. We cannot live in isolation, cutting ourselves off from all who are different. We have to engage with them.
Unfortunately, this is not the current reality in our deeply divided nation and world. The rhetoric of our current mid- term election campaigns and advertisements, the often harsh condemnation of “the other” we read in some letters to newspaper editors, and the derogatory comments made by public figures testifies to this quite dramatically.
Who is “the other” for you? How will you get to know that person, engage them in conversation so as to understand who they are and what they experience?
Is it a member of your family or a co-worker whose political views are different from yours?
Is it the migrant, seeking asylum here or in Europe, or those who in attempting to cross our southern border, have been arrested, sent to detention centers, and separated from their children?
Is it the undocumented who live in the shadows, providing for their families by engaging in menial, underpaid jobs under difficult conditions and afraid to report abuse for fear of deportation?
Is it the new families who have moved into your neighborhood and dress differently, people from whom we look away when we pass them on the street?
These are the neighbors whom Jesus challenges us, not only to love, but also to engage and welcome. Perhaps if enough of us take that seriously, we shall begin to heal some of the division in our country and world. Perhaps we shall finally come to realize that love is truly all we need.
Then Jesus may say to us as He said to the scribe in today’s gospel, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Sister Michaela Connolly, O.P.