Mark 12:28-34, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
First there were ten commandments. Then over time these multiplied to 600+ laws plus heaven knows how many more implementing rules and regulations and rituals. Just like the mess of information on the internet, these directives often took a life of their own and were confusing. If you could compress or summarize all these commands, what would that be?
That was the scribe’s query and Jesus’ reply was a simple tweet:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In twitterverse, the command would be all of 165 characters, including spaces, with more to spare for emoticons and hashtags. Actually, the command could be condensed even further: love God with everything that you are; love others as you love yourself, given everything that you are.
There are three directions to this condensed command of love: Godward, other-ward, and self-ward. And all three are not mutually exclusive nor divergent. That is to say, each direction is inclusive of the other two, and all three are convergent.
First, Godward. Along this direction, a claim is made: there is only one God, there is no other. There is no my God and your God, much less my God being better than yours. This claim ran counter to the multiplicity of gods in the ancient world. It continues to challenge us today, what with the variety of idols on offer in these sophisticated times as well.
Moreover, we are to love God with everything that we are. It is easy to love God in the mind, as a compelling idea, but not in the heart, not as someone who awakens our affection and devotion. Or our love could all be heart (i.e. emotion and infatuation), but with little knowing or not much drive toward deeper understanding. Or our love could all be big on heart and mind (i.e. devotion and understanding), but small on strength or on any motion of following (on foot) or carrying (in hand or on shoulder). In other words, we are to take care that our love is undivided, that it is not conveniently separated and sectioned.
Second, other-ward. Along this direction, we ask, how is it even possible to love God? How can we love someone we do not see? The answer is simple: by loving our neighbor who we can see. Thus, in 1 John 4:20, we are cautioned, “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
And who is our neighbor or brother or sister? One can go back to the story of the good Samaritan or the judgment parable in Mt 25 (“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”). The neighbor we are to love is not just someone inside our circle. The other-ward bearing of our love is directed toward those at the margins of our circle and those outside as well. In truth, our neighbor is the one swept out to the edges, who needs our love and time and mercy.
We cannot separate our love of God from our love of neighbor. In other words, we are to take care that our love is not divided between God and neighbor.
Third and last, self-ward. When the Lord bids us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, he is telling us that we cannot separate love of others from love of self. At first glance, this self-ward direction seems selfish and loveless. On deeper reflection, love is only possible with self-donation and such donation presupposes a self that can be emptied and given away.
Self-donating love starts with self-awareness, self-honesty, self-acceptance, self-care, and on to self-possession, self-mastery, and true selflessness. Self-donation cannot begin with a perverted sense of self-importance or self-depreciation. How can we value the lives of others if we have not learned to put an honest value to our own? Moreover, if we see little or no value in our own selves, what else then are we to give our beloved?
Self-love comes from discovering our own loveliness; self-hate comes from doubting what is loveable about us. Self-love requires humility; self-hate is fueled by pride or self-pity. We discover our loveliness when we are humble enough to receive the love of others and the love of God. If the love of others can seem elusive at times, the love of God is not. By this we know our loveliness and how God has loved us, “in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
To sum up all of our faith therefore, we are to take care that our love be undivided. We cannot separate ourselves into little compartments when we love God. We cannot separate our love of God from our love of neighbor. And we cannot separate our loving others from loving ourselves. In a tweet, we are to love God with all that we are, and we are to love others as we love ourselves. #loveundivided.