Love God, self, and neighbor

10-25-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

We all as humans share common feelings, such as joy, happiness, sadness, or emptiness. We do not always experience the same events that others do, but the commonality of what joy or sadness or any feeling means or feels like lets us relate to another person in their feelings. We do not have to experience exactly what someone else has experienced to be able to empathize with the feelings people are experiencing or have experienced. We like to think that our personal feelings are singular, whereas in reality they are only singular to us, but in common with the human heart of others.

Our first reading from Exodus notes how God reminds the Israelite people that they were once outsiders. He reminds them of their time in Egypt. He tells them that they know how it feels to be foreigners in a strange land, and therefore they should do nothing against the disadvantaged. That remembrance of those common human feelings should impel them to be careful and respectful in how they treat others who are seen as outsiders.

Our Gospel passage this weekend contains another story where the Pharisees try to trick Jesus with a question. The question by its nature appears to be reasonable and positive, but their intent is what turns the question into a dangerous situation. They want to know the greatest commandment (or law) of God. In answer to this loaded question from the Pharisees, Jesus gives us God’s greatest commandment: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love one another as we love ourselves, no matter what.

Some people serve others as part of their occupation. Educators, all those working in the medical field, counselors, priests, and ministers are only a few service-oriented professions, that is, aimed at serving others. Many people in these fields and others volunteer their time and talent in our Parish and throughout our Church and world to build up the reign of God by helping directly in our Parish.

Throughout the four Gospels, we listen to the stories of Jesus turning everything upside down or topsy-turvy with his message of the last being first and the humble being blessed. That paradoxical message that he teaches is found in our passage from the Gospel of Matthew today. It is simple, clear, and direct: to be great in God’s eyes, we need to love God and one another with as much love as we have for ourselves. The scholar of the Holy Law who questioned Jesus was hoping for a contradictory and complex answer, which would end up incorrect in their opinion.

We know that most of the time it is rather easy to love ourselves for our daily culture constantly tells us to and drives us to do that. Yet truth be told there are days and even long periods when we are not so lovable. How do we change and have a love for ourselves when we come up short of our expectations and painful disappointment clouds our image of ourselves? These are the particularly difficult times when we need to know and remember God’s love for us first and then attempt to return that love through prayer, quiet reflection, and outward-directed action. These are the times when we need to nourish our soul and practice healthy self-care so that we can first love ourselves and then pass that love on to others.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus showed us how to do this. Our Savior took time to be alone, to pray and reflect. He then took his renewed inner strength to reach out to others so that they might love themselves and others. Bear in mind that in our service to others, we lift our neighbors and give them the confidence they need to become humble servants as well.