God's Word on Sunday: Loving God and neighbour are inseparable principles

  • June 27, 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 14 (Year C) Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

Where is God? How do we know God’s ways or the correct path in different situations? 

For many, God seems distant and silent, and the religious tradition a confusing, puzzling and sometimes contradictory collection of rules, decrees, customs and warnings. Deuteronomy has a different take on things. For the Deuteronomist, it is very simple: Those who belong to God are absolutely and unwaveringly loyal — idolatry is the greatest sin and always leads to disaster. 

This is expressed in the familiar shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” 

In the ancient understanding of love, loyalty was an important element. The other commandments were expressions of this one basic principle. One did what God commanded out of love and loyalty, period. But the Deuteronomist went further — the law of God was simple, not easy, in that it was clear and uncomplicated. And it wasn’t in a distant place, up in Heaven or off in the ozone somewhere. 

No long searches or exertions were required. It was incredibly easy to access and understand for the simple reason that it was in one’s mouth and heart. We often look outside of us for what can only be found within — God and God’s word. Most often, what we desperately seek is right before our eyes. We can never claim to be truly ignorant or bereft of divine guidance or teachings. The inner presence is the birthright of all believers.

As the image of the invisible God, Christ revealed to us God’s nature, especially God’s unity. As God’s Son, Christ became the unifying principle and centrepoint of the universe, for all is reconciled in Him and through Him. 

Too often throughout history, Christ has been used to divide or build walls, but this is contrary to His nature and mission. That which separates us from one another and from creation is not of Christ. This unity is written in human hearts if we would but listen and heed.

Sometimes just knowing and observing the rules is not enough. We can do the right things either for the wrong reasons or without understanding. The lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. The answer was the shema from Deuteronomy 6 noted above — loving God wholeheartedly — but with an addition from Leviticus: “and your neighbour as yourself.” 

The two principles of loving God and neighbour are inseparable, and much grief has resulted from people choosing just one. One can be quite zealous for God but treat people with callousness and cruelty. 

Elsewhere the author of 1 John doesn’t mince words. He insists that one who claims to love God but hates their neighbour is a liar. Our history books are filled with examples of this fatal flaw. The lawyer then asked an age-old question: who is my neighbour? 

This is a variation on Cain’s cynical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In the well-known parable, religious folks passed the stricken man by without coming to his aid. It was the outsider, moved with humanity and compassion, who was the neighbour to the wounded man. 

He didn’t care that the man belonged to a different community and had a different theology. It was enough that he was in distress and in need of aid. 

Jesus insisted that we go and do likewise. For one who walks with God, there are no boundaries or conditions for mercy and compassion. 

Our world is increasingly fragmented, fearful, hate-filled and divided. Active compassion and mercy are the language that will transcend the barriers of fear and identity politics, and it is the only language we should be speaking. Most people respond well to it, and it is both healing and unifying, since it is from God. 

Our willingness and ability to act with compassion and kindness and to treat others with dignity and respect is the litmus test that determines whether we are walking with God.

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