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God's Word on Sunday: Survival depends on loving our neighbour

  • February 16, 2020

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 23 (Year A) Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

God called the people of Israel to be holy, just as God is. In Old Testament language, however, “holy” meant “set apart” or “completely different.” 

In other words, God did not want them to be just like everyone else. They were not to pattern their lives on earthly customs, values and practices. The principal way that they would be different is the great care they would show for one another. 

They were expressly forbidden to hate others or to bear grudges. Moral and spiritual growth was a communal effort, so they were to correct and reprove one another. It was summed up in the command “to love your neighbour as yourself.” It was not a matter of personal likes or dislikes. 

The love to which the text refers was certainly not romance or sentimentalism. In its context, love meant fierce loyalty and concrete, hands-on care for others. The well-being and happiness of others was just as important as one’s own. They recognized the degree to which they were bound and connected to one another. 

This principle is the very fibre and blood of any just and humane society. When it is absent, human misery and eventually destruction result. The chaotic, frightening and dangerous world that we are now experiencing illustrates this perfectly. Unfortunately, we are rapidly losing sight of this principle, allowing greed, selfishness, competitiveness and fear to drive us farther apart from one another.

If we are not careful, we will reach that point where everyone is at war with everyone else. Unless we can reverence the image of God in others — and that means all others — then we are not walking fully in the ways of God. 

As we look around for answers to the many crises and difficulties that we face, we can begin with the fundamental divine law of love that God gave the Israelites so long ago. It is never obsolete, and it is fitting for every time and situation. But we have to begin with ourselves.

Paul recognized that the wisdom of God was never acceptable to the worldly wise. Earthly ways are formed and driven by competitiveness, force, domination, fear, separation, inequality and profits over people. To suggest that we should exercise practical love towards our fellow human beings, unless it is just for a Christmas card or fridge magnet, seems foolishness indeed. Those who attempt to live by this principle are often seen as naïve and unrealistic. 

Our collective lack of divine wisdom is evident in the world we have created. We can trace most of our economic, political, social and environmental problems back to a lack of care of others, the common good and our common home.

Gandhi once said that when we live by the principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the whole world ends up blind and toothless. Unfortunately, this is fast becoming a reality. This was originally intended to limit violence and ensure a proportionate response, but in the minds of many, it is a free pass for violence and revenge. 

Jesus amplified the love-of-neighbour principle for His followers. He called upon us to love as God does — without conditions, preferences or exclusions. As He pointed out, it is easy to love those whom you love and who love you in return. 

The mark of one grounded firmly in God’s path is the ability to love enemies, those who are “undeserving” of our love (whatever that means), those who are different and those who are ungrateful. 

God loves and blesses the good and the wicked, the grateful and ungrateful, for God just simply loves. That offends our sense of “fairness,” underlining just how much we have been affected by worldly thinking. 

Jesus ended by urging us to love perfectly, which means complete, whole and undivided, omitting no one. God considers no one an enemy and neither should we. It sounds difficult — even impossible — but what do we have to lose by trying? 

Human ways of doing things clearly are not working and are even a major part of the problem. We just might try God’s way for a change. Our very survival depends on our willingness to begin loving our neighbour — and our planet — as ourselves.

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