Love Is A Triangle

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Bartimaeus last week was cured of his blindness because he did two things: he acknowledged his weakness, his need to be cured, and he strongly cried out his desire to be healed.  If you have a weakness or a trouble or addiction call out to Jesus Christ like he did; to call out to the Lord is to pray.  Often we don’t because we don’t believe that God will help us.

A good Jew even today prays the Shema as we heard in the Gospel (Mark 12: 28-34) twice a day.  It is a beautiful prayer that sums up all of what we need to know as a Christian.  And the first command is Shema: hear or listen.  What is God saying to you today in the readings, the homily, the Eucharist, the person next to you?

The gospel prior to this one Jesus is reminding the Jews that we will rise from the dead, and that God is a God of the living, not the dead.   If we get to a point where we are no longer amazed at what God is capable of then we have ceased to be a child.  What a pity when we don’t see what God is doing for us, how he is acting in our lives.

When asked by this Pharisee which is the first of all the commandments Jesus replies: “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Maybe the Pharisee was looking for an intellectual response, something abstract and Jesus gives him something intensely personal.  He uses you or your six times in one sentence.  It also implies you should love, rather than plot or deceive or grumble or just go through the motions.

Jesus speaks as if he wrote these words from the Old Testament himself.  He speaks with authority.  There is no difference between him and the Torah.  The Pharisees on the other hand want to hammer things out, with rigor, to define, to clarify, to prioritize and thus be made less threatening.  They want to tame God so they can enjoy peace of mind and dictate to others.

In a time and setting dominated by endless exterior works of piety, charity and rituals of all kinds Jesus focuses exclusively on love.  Love is primarily an interior activity that goes undetected by those around us.  As we heard on All Saints, blessed are the pure of heart, not blessed are those who pray or give alms or fasting.  Jesus is concerned about the motive we have in doing things for him.  He is concerned if we have a pure heart or is it filled with our own plans?  Does fasting bring us closer to God, or does it just make us feel good?

The second command is a twist for the lawyer.  He just asked for one commandment and got two.  Jesus was told to select one out of 613.  Even the lawyer’s words:  love God with ALL our heart, with ALL our mind, and ALL our strength shows the absolute primacy of love of God above all else.

And neighbor is not just the guy from my country or town, but is the guy in need as you know from the Good Samaritan gospel.   Not the one I necessarily like, but the one who needs my help, who is struggling.  Jesus speaks totally fresh as if they heard these words for the first time.  There are no qualifiers: love him if he comes to Church or is a good person…none of that.

We cannot love ourselves or the other if we don’t love God first.  You can only love the other well in God and for God or it will be something selfish or human.  Love is always a triangle; it takes three to get married.  A family is a triad: father, mother and children.  You cannot say I love God and hate or not speak to your brother, nor can you offer your gift at the altar before reconciling with him.

Love is the only thing that matters and what we will be judged on.  Any tradition in the Church or anywhere has to hang on these two commands: love of God and love of neighbor.  Let us make room for God each day for five minutes to start to show him that we want to put him first.