Browsing Reflections

Fr. Jo's Reflection for the 31th Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr B, October 31th, 2021

English language suffers some limitation when it comes to the use of the word ‘love.’ Languages as primitive as Greek and Latin have different words that put the idea of liking or loving in context. But in English, the word love is used to express whatever we feel is important to us—whether or not it makes sense—as well as some of the most sublime acts of sacrifice. A soldier who puts himself in harm’s way to fight for his country could use the word ‘love’ to describe his sacrificial commitment to his country—“I love my country”—as an alcoholic would say, “I love my bourbon.” Nowadays, if you don’t agree with some behavior or lifestyle of your neighbor or family member, the question that’s easily thrown at you is: “Where’s the love in your heart?” Consequently, the word suffers from the highest misconception among other words in the dictionary. Today’s gospel make a correction.

To the scribe who asked which commandment of the law was the first, Jesus reads the Pledge of Allegiance of the Jews, called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He further adds: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, Jesus quotes directly the words of today’s first reading from the book of Deuteronomy. The addition, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is not part of the Shema, but comes from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus did not quote the verse entirely but lifted the words, “love your neighbor as yourself” from the verse. It is significant that Jesus dropped the first part of the verse, which limited love to members of one’s race. But modern interpretation of love makes the Shema impossible because God is not a being to whom you can give or from whom you can expect mere warm cozy feeling. And this explains why the love of God and love of everything Godlike has grown cold in the hearts of modern people.

The Shema lists the faculties with which we are to exercise love: all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. If you take out these four faculties (heart, soul, mind and strength) nothing remains of the human person. The heart (kardia) is the center of human life from which flows all our actions and decisions; the soul (psychê) is the whole person as a living being; the mind stimulates thought and reasoning; and strength refers to energy and power to effect the operations of these faculties. Thus love happens with the whole person and is not limited to one or another specific faculty. Significantly, emotion wasn’t featured. Since it didn’t make the list, we assume, though, that it’s subsumed in the heart. How wrong it is for our society to make it the single barometer for measuring modern love.

How was it that Jesus felt at liberty to add a second part to the Shema? Never before had any rabbi done so nor would have any thought of adding to or removing from the law. He shows that He is the fulfillment and completion of all laws. What makes Jesus’ addition exceptional is the statement following the answer He gave the scribe: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” St. Matthew added that, “On these two depend the entire law and prophet;” meaning that one cannot be taken without the other—like the two threads on which a weight hangs. If you cut off one thread—whichever one—the object (weight) would necessarily collapse. Love of God and love of neighbor (without limits of country, tribe, race, language, tongue) is the greatest commandment. No amount of sacrifice can suffice for love of God and neighbor. Religious observance that excludes love of neighbor—like that of the priest and the Levite who passed by the wounded traveler in order to attend to God’s service—is a loveless sacrifice. Similarly, philanthropism and human love that excludes God, who is Love Himself, is an exercise in futility. Sooner than later, its true color will appear and the charade will lose its muster.        

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


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