26 October 2008 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 22, 20-26; Psalm 17; Thess 1, 5-10; Matthew 22, 34-40
The Gospel today is about the Pharisee who asked which commandment in the law is the greatest. And Jesus answered that there are two: Love God, and from this commandment flows one’s love for neighbors. The responsorial psalm affirms our love for God. While the first reading from Exodus enumerates what constitutes our neighbors. The second reading tells us about the conversion of the Thessalonians who heard the Word of God from Paul and readily listened to him despite enduring suffering and persecution. They grew in their love for God and neighbors that they became models of believers in their own and in other regions. They have made a clean break from their pagan past, whereas some of their fellow Christians such as the Corinthians struggled from (1 Cor 10, 14).
In our lives today, we have, to a certain extent, been loving to God and our neighbors. But we all know that our love is not totally passionate, intense and in total selflessness. Many of our loves are inadequate. Sometimes our loves are wasted and bitter. What prevents us? What causes these struggles?
One of the many barriers that prevent us from loving intensely and passionately are the many structures that cover us. As we grow older and accumulate knowledge, we build many facades that cover our core. We have our ideologies or our ‘shoulds’ in life: for example, some of us have set up a criteria to determine which person suits us. We also have our learned doctrines, our values and disvalues, our attitudes and behaviors. When stripped of all these, what remains is our affectivity. This very core is the ultimate truth of our lives and our capacity to love intensely, truthfully and passionately. It is what makes us live our lives, not just “going through our lives” as if all of our lives is just about survival. Our loves are inadequate because it is not a love that is honest and truthful. We have used our ‘structures’ like the skins of onions to hide the truth. We have been accustomed by lying about ourselves, putting on defenses, “keeping some parts of ourselves” just in case we get hurt in the future.
To live and love intensely and passionately is to have a heart that is open and exposed to the elements --- exposed to being hurt and vulnerable. A person who is intense and passionate, literally, has a heart that burns. It is no accident that we call these people warm. However, there are people who have been hurt and therefore decided to extinguish whatever embers remain. These are the people we call, cold and lifeless. These are the people who have closed their hearts for fear, distrust and selfishness. They withdraw because they are afraid to get hurt again.
And there are those who tread in the middle. Those who love but love with too much calculation and reluctance. Those who express their love with a ‘thousand reluctant acts’ but fails to make one loving act that is intense and passionate and free (freedom here is choosing what is good). This love is not reckless and uncritical. It is a love patterned on the intensity, passion and freedom of Jesus’ love for us --- the love that Paul and the Thessalonians imitated.
If we have to reflect on the greatest commandment, I suggest writing real names of real people in our lives. This will make the reflection concrete. Who among them have you loved reluctantly? What prevents you from loving them intensely, passionately and free?