Gospel Matthew 22:34-40
“This is the greatest and the first commandment….”
In 1967 The Beatles released yet another banger of a tune, ‘All You Need Is Love’.
Does the claim of the Lennon/McCartney song-writing powerhouse actually meet up with reality? Is love really all that we need? If it is, then they seem to have hit upon the formula to a kind of utopian bliss.
In fact, what they have proposed to us bears a remarkable reminiscent of the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel. But have they grasped the essence of his teaching?
When confronted with the question with which the Pharisees had posed to him, Jesus refers them back to the Scriptures which they had known so well. In fact, as if teaching Grandma to suck eggs, Jesus refers the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, to the most basic Hebrew act of faith, the Sh’ma Yisrael.
Of course they would have known this phrase, but perhaps they had not made the link between the command to love God and the command to love their neighbour. Jesus pushes these two concepts together, telling them that ‘On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
This teaching of Jesus is however a little different from what The Beatles are advocating.
In his time, Jesus needed to teach that the love of God did not negate the love of one’s neighbour, but that was most adequately expressed in the love of one’s neighbour. Today however, the message that perhaps needs to get through most clearly is the primacy of love of God over and above love of neighbour – that the love of neighbour which we are called to is only possible in and through the love we receive from God
The merely philanthropic love that Lennon/McCartney sing about was close to the mark, but ultimately inadequate – all we need is love, of both God and neighbour.
Words of Wisdom
If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its real- ism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).