Sunday sermon on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 22:35-46.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test Him, “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” He said to him, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David in the Spirit calls Him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David thus calls Him Lord, how can He be his Son?” No one was able to give Him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.
There he is – your new brother-in-law. One of those guys who always smells good. You like him. Your mom says he’s done really well for himself. Your dad wants to go fishing with him. Your dad does not even like fishing. You like your brother-in-law. But you’d like him better if you made more money than he does… don’t get mad, get e-trade. [see the video below]
I do not watch cable TV. I despise it. In fact, I recently cancelled our cable subscription. What I dislike the most are the ads. Companies spend millions upon millions of dollars on research on how to get to our brains, how to influence our behavior, how to make us slaves of their products (smartphones, anyone?).
There have been studies made on how advertisements corrupt our minds. These studies show that today’s society is extremely self-centered. Popular culture and the media are the main reasons why. And, they have ruined the Gospel’s message about love.
“But you’d like your brother-in-law better if you made more money than he does.” What kind of message is this advertisement sending? ... Love others, if you have more money than they do. Hate them, if they have more money than you do.
We are being taught to love only ourselves. We are groomed to be completely and unconditionally self-centered. And this means, any inconvenience should be eliminated. No wonder we, as a society, see no evil in killing innocent, unborn life, in abortions. Babies can be an inconvenience, eliminate them, think about yourself.
No wonder we, as a society, avoid the elderly people. Stick them into the nursing homes, they are an inconvenience. How are we going to think about ourselves if we have to care for others?
And God forbid euthanasia is ever legalized in America. Then we’d kill the elderly, put them out of their misery. Kill the unborn, kill the elderly. Why waste time and money on them, if we have ourselves to think about, if we can spend that time and money on ourselves?
Seems harsh, right? Well, it is. Pay attention to what you watch. Pay attention to the advertisements, pay attention to the movies, to the news, pay attention to the music, especially the music the kids listen to. I’m not saying take it away, but if you hear nonsense, make sure to point it out. Garbage should not pollute our brains or the brains of our children.
If our society could write its own gospel (the gospel according to the society), the main message would be – put yourself first, care about yourself, even if it means stepping over others. While making us completely self-centered, it does not teach us how to love even ourselves. And that's because being self-centered, being selfish, does not mean that we love ourselves.
This is not new, self-centeredness has been the mantra for human beings for a very long time. But there is another message, a radical message, a message spoken to Moses by God thousands of years ago. It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In today's Gospel lesson we hear Christ being tested by a lawyer, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?” He replies with a double answer, two for one, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is nothing new, God taught Israel through Moses these same commandments thousands of years prior. But they forgot.
There is one very interesting detail in how Jesus connects these two commandments, He says that loving God is similar to loving our neighbor. The first commandment is like the second one. Think about it, loving God is like loving the neighbor. And no, Jesus is not saying that our neighbor is God.
There are two other points that I would like to discuss a bit more.
Love God, love neighbor. So, what is love? Love is an action verb, it’s not a feeling. It’s something that we do. In order for love to be real, in order for love to work, there needs to be someone to love. Love only works in a relationship – with God, with the spouse, with children, with friends.
There needs to be someone to receive our love, to feel our love, to be loved. Love cannot be general. For example, if I say, “I love everyone and everything,” what I am really saying is that I don’t love anyone in particular. Christ said, “Love your neighbor,” not neighbors. Singular. One at a time.
The second point is about loving ourselves. Some people, when they hear “love your neighbor as yourself,” ask, “Does this mean that I have to love myself before I love others? Does this mean that I can only love others if I love myself first?”
Thankfully we have no problem loving ourselves. So, problem solved, right? Not quite.
There is a play on words in this phrase. The original commandment, when it was given to Moses by God, was written down by Moses in Hebrew. The linguists say that the meaning of “Love your neighbor as yourself” in Hebrew is this – we begin to love ourselves only when we learn to love others.
In other words, we love ourselves by loving others. We find ourselves in others. In fact, since Christ said that the two commandments to love God and to love neighbor are similar, we can say that we find ourselves and God in others.
And this makes sense. Since everyone is created in the image of God, when we behold another human being, we behold an image of God. Not God Himself, but His image.
Do you now see why the message of the popular culture is so destructive? It teaches hate and nothing about love. It teaches misery. Christ’s message is radical because we have to rethink our existence in relationship to others.
To paraphrase what Christ told us today, “If you really want to love yourself, love someone else.”
To Jesus Christ, Who is the source of all love, we give glory, forever and ever.