A Hindu proverb sums up the above: "The narrow-minded ask, 'Are these people strangers or members of our tribe?' But to those in whom love dwells, the whole world is one family."
(Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम. from “vasudha”, the earth; “iva”, is ; and “kutumbakam”, family) is a Sanskrit phrase that means that the whole world is one single family.
The concept originates in the Vedic scripture Maha Upanishad (Chapter 6, Verse 72):
अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकंMichel DeVerteuil
ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam
Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family. - TK)
Like last Sunday’s, today’s passage is built around a saying of Jesus. I would say about it what I said about last Sunday’s: it is a wisdom saying which the passage invites us to enter into with our feelings. Its truth should touch us so deeply that we are filled with gratitude, and also with humility as we realise that we do not live up to it – as individuals, as a Church and as communities. The saying then becomes a call to repentance.
The two sayings are similar in that they are both teachings on wholeness:
– last Sunday’s spoke of the wholeness which comes from recognising the sacredness of certain values – “giving to God what belongs to him”;
– this Sunday it is the wholeness which comes from recognising right priorities among our various obligations – “which is the greatest of the commandments”.
The passage is addressed to us as individuals in our various vocations – parents, community leaders, ministers of Church communities, spiritual guides and counselors; it is also addressed to us as the Church of our time.
As always we read Jesus’ saying, not merely as theory, but as testimony also. This was how he looked on life at this crucial stage of his journey, when he was in Jerusalem, facing the wrath of “the chief priests and elders” (mentioned explicitly on two previous Sundays), arrest and crucifixion. A good approach to interpreting the passage is to start with Jesus – what was in his mind when he said this? So too a sign that we have made a good meditation is that we celebrate Jesus (and all the people like him) who have touched our lives.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees represent the fragmentation which Jesus rejected – and calls us to reject – in favour of wholeness. As we saw last week, a sign that we have made a good meditation is that we feel compassion for them – we know where they are coming from.
The passage traces the journey to wholeness as a movement from a solid foundation (“the greatest commandment”) which leads to three consequences. The foundation is to put God in the first place, laying claim to our whole selves (“heart, soul and mind”). Once the foundation is set, three things fall into place:
– the neighbour
– ourselves– the “law and the prophets”.
Let us look at each stage of the movement.
– The foundation – God
We often find ourselves stressed by our many obligations. One day we realise our root problem: we have allowed obligations to become important in themselves, whereas they are important only because they are linked to a basic obligation – our commitment to God, the centre of all our lives. We celebrate that moment of insight.
In our meditation we must make sure to interpret “love” concretely. In our culture it has become vague – meaning many things and therefore nothing very precise. We need then to give it some “body” – meaning such things as “surrender ourselves to”, “put our trust in”, “choose to please”.
“All your heart, all your soul, all your mind”: we do not have to give each of these a separate meaning. A cumulative effect is intended – “your whole self”. The real stress is on “all” which means in the concrete “more than to any person, thing or cause”.
In fact, a good approach to the saying is to start by asking ourselves the question: “who (or what) do I love (surrender myself to, put my trust in, choose to please) more than any other?” That is God for me. The further question now is, “is this the true God, the Father of Jesus?”
– First consequence – the neighbor We then work our way “downwards”. Once God is first for us we will find that love of our neighbour becomes our “greatest commandment”. The two obligations “resemble each other”, meaning that we now choose to give our whole selves to our neighbour,– spouse– children
– the human family.
We celebrate the Jesus (person, community, event, bible text, natural phenomenon) who led us to this wholeness.
– Second consequence – neighbour and self become one
An important area of fragmentation in our modern Western culture is individualism. This concept, which is at the heart of most modern institutions, says that our first obligation as human beings is to look after ourselves. Individualism affects the whole gamut of human relationships – between individuals, nations, ethnic groups, religions etc. It has even affected the life of our church.
Jesus, however, (like all Jesus-like people) totally rejects individualism and upholds solidarity instead. His position is that we and our neighbor are one person – our destinies are inextricably intertwined. As the passage says, when we love our neighbour we are loving ourselves. This integration is another secret of wholeness and we celebrate the Jesus who teaches it by word and example.– Third consequence – “the whole law and the prophets” fall into place
In Jesus’ time “the law and the prophets” referred to the Jewish ancestral tradition. We interpret it today of our own cultural traditions. The saying celebrates a time when we experience them as perfectly fulfilled (“hanging together”) in Jesus. This saying then rejects another source of fragmentation in our modern world (one which our Church has contributed to) – the concept that Western culture is superior to others. A sign that the people of Africa, Asia and Latin and Native America have come to “love” the Father of Jesus is that they reverence their “whole law” and their “prophets”.
Like last Sunday’s saying, this one is presented in the context of a story and identifying with the different characters can help bring the story to life for us – always on condition that we don’t look down on them but identify with them.
As we have seen, the Pharisees and Sadducees represent us at the beginning of our journey to wholeness. We can however focus on the fact that they “got together” for the purpose of “disconcerting” Jesus; this is significant because the Pharisees and Sadducees were usually at odds. They therefore represent us when we are afraid to make the journey to wholeness and ally ourselves with anyone who will collaborate with us in running away from it.
We can also consider each separately as representing us when, like the invitees to the wedding feast, we reject the call to wholeness;
– the Pharisees’ learning had made them arrogant and complacent;
– the Sadducees were conscious of their standing in society and wanted to preserve it at all costs. Confronted with them, Jesus remains clear and focused because his priorities are right.
Lord, forgive us Christians that we have complicated your very simple message. Like the Pharisees, we have become very learned:
* we know canon law and all the laws of the Church;
* we have listened to all the wise people, both ancient and modern;
* we have studied the background to the books of the bible.
Like the Sadducees, we have influence in society and know how to exercise power.
But the upshot of it all is that we are never sure what we are to do
because one commandment is always in conflict with another,
and there is always some expert who disagrees with what we decide to do.
Thank you, Lord, for sending us Jesus.
In one instant he cleared away all the undergrowth we had allowed to cover up the truth
and we remembered that there is really only one commandment:
* that pleasing you is the only important thing in life;
* that if we seek your will only, we end up loving others and doing what is best for ourselves.
Then suddenly all the many laws and prophets fall into place.
Lord, we thank you for the great teachers who have touched our lives,
they were not learned like the Pharisees,
nor high class like the Sadducees,
but they taught us the basic lessons of life,
and ever since we have been able to put laws and prophets into proper perspective.
Lord, according to the philosophy of individualism
the greatest commandment is to look after ourselves,
to seek prosperity for our immediate families and for our countries.
To defend that commandment,
we quote scientists and doctors and lawyers,
allying ourselves with all sorts of people
with whom we do not normally associate.
Help us to be simple and uncompromising, like Jesus, showing that loving others is the same as worshipping you
as well as the only sure way of loving ourselves,
and that all laws and prophets must fall into line with this teaching.
Introduction to the Celebration
Why have we gathered here? One answer is to assemble together to show our love for God and for one another – because the whole of the Christian way can be summed up in these two commandments. But let us pause and recall that we do not always love God with our whole hearts nor our neighbours as ourselves.
1. How do we learn to be Christians? The answer is that we have to learn to behave in a particular way: the way of love. It was to establish the community that would live in this way that Jesus was sent to us by the Father; and it is to be the people who live in this way that we are called to belong to the church today.
2. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
3. This is what is commanded to each of us; but it is given as the greatest commandment of ‘The Law’ – and The Law was the most valuable possession of a community, a people. We are each called to love God and neighbour, but we do this not as loners but as part of a community. Then, with each practising love of God and neighbour, the community will be like a transmitter showing the love of God and the new way of life he calls us to live to all around us.
4. People should be able to spot us as Christians by the way we live long before they have found out what beliefs distinguish us.
It is always difficult when people ask us to put a list of items in order of preference. For example, deciding whether we like chocolate more than mints, or apples more than oranges, could take hours. Often in arguments, our opponents might pose a range of options which is almost impossible to answer, such as: Which is greater, your love for your spouse or your love for your children?
This is what the Pharisees thought they were doing when one of them, a doctor of the law, asked Jesus: ‘Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ (Mt 22:36). We learn that, in asking this question, the Pharisee was trying to disconcert Jesus. So the Pharisees were hoping that, somehow, Jesus would make a mistake and say something that was incompatible with and offensive to the Jewish religion. Then they could use that against him.
They were jealous of his popularity with the crowds and they knew that they were dealing with a formidable teacher who could quote and explain the scriptures expertly. Surely now, they were thinking, Jesus would fall into the error of belittling at least some of God’s commandments by exalting one over another? We have probably all been in situations like this in discussions and debates, when we have been hard pressed to offer a satisfactory answer without compromising the faith or moral teaching in some way.
Jesus’ reply was simple and direct. First, he emphasized the first and greatest commandment to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. Nobody could argue against that. The Pharisees must then have been waiting, hoping that a mistake was imminent.
Then Jesus added that the second commandment is like the first: ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mt 22:39). Next Jesus achieved a masterstroke. Instead of leaving it at that and, perhaps, allowing the criticism that the other commandments (forbidding theft, murder and adultery) are not so important, he added: ‘On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets too’ (Mt 22:40).
The cunning Pharisees must have been dejected. Not only did Jesus refute in advance any potential claim that he had diminished the importance of any of the commandments, but hc had included all the sayings of the prophets in his reply. The greatest of the commandments, which is to love God and neighbour, is the basis for every other law and every exhortation of the prophets who, over many centuries, had spoken about fidelity to God’s will.
The challenge for us is to reflect carefully on Jesus’ defence ol the truth. He did not shy away from the questions posed by the Pharisees, although he knew that they were being mischievous and trying to trap him. Let us resolve to answer honestly and thoughtfully the questions about our faith that are asked by family, friends and colleagues.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. You must love your neighbour as yourself. (Mt 22:37, 39)
Donal Neary SJ
The energy of true religion
‘To love God and love your neighbour7 – this is one of the most attractive of the sayings of Jesus. It is an encouragement to live fully with what brings the greatest joy in life – true love of God and the neighbour. It is at the heart of good religion, and what attracts many to Jesus.
Bad religion puts law above love. Bad religion fights for the partial truth of religion. We risk being victims of bad religion, just as we can be victims of bad nationalism, bad psychology or any other bad way of living. Jesus’ life was to propose good religion and to live by it. The religion of some of the Pharisees was bad, in that it was incomplete in its scope.
We admire those who give energy in love and service. We are proud of people we know whose lives make a great and good difference to others. We know that our family and neighbourhood, parish and school, workplace and leisure time have been enriched by the self-sacrificing love of many people, young and old.
‘He gave it his all‘ – we say that of a good player at the end of a match. We say of parents that they “were always there for the children. May we give all we have in our lives, giving in love, knowing that all we give is itself a gift from God, the giver of all good gifts.
From The Connections:
In this Sunday’s Gospel, as in last Sunday’s, the Jewish leaders seek to trip Jesus up. The question the lawyer poses was much discussed in rabbinical circles: Which is the greatest commandment? The Pharisees’ intention in posing the question was to force Jesus into a single rabbinical school, thereby opening him up to criticism from all other sides. Jesus’ answer, however, proves his fidelity to both the Jewish tradition and to a spirituality that transcends the legal interpretations of the commandments: the “second” commandment is the manifestation of the first. If we love the Lord God with our whole being, that love will manifest itself in our feeding of the hungry, our sheltering of the homeless and our liberating the oppressed.
Jesus’ command to love our neighbor means seeing one another as we see ourselves: realizing that our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families are the same dreams others have for themselves and their families.
Every one of us, at one time or other, is an alien, outsider, foreigner and stranger. The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not confined to our “own” people or to a list of specific situations, but should affect every relationship we have and every decision we make.
As our society becomes more and more diverse, as science continues to make once unimaginable advances in all forms of technology, the ethical and moral questions we face become more complicated, difficult and challenging. The Great Commandment gives us the starting point for dealing with such issues: to love as God loves us – without limit, without condition, without counting the cost, completely and selflessly.
In our e-connected existence, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are especially challenging: to love with our whole heart and soul and mind requires us to “unplug” and be present to one another, to engage one another as our loving God is engaged with us, to seek not just images and perceptions of compassion but behold compassion and experience love in one another.
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia. His parents explained to him that she needed a blood transfusion and that his blood was probably compatible. They asked if they could test his blood. Sure, he said. The results showed that his blood would be a good match. Then they asked the boy if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance at living. He said he would like to think about overnight.
The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate his blood to his sister. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put into the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister.
The doctor came over to see how he was doing. The boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon I until I start to die?”
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY
One Sunday the pastor was finishing up a series on marriage. At the end of the service he was giving out small wooden crosses to each married couple. He said, "Place this cross in the room in which you fight the most and you will be reminded of God’s commandment of love and you won’t argue as much." One woman came up after the service and said, "You’d better give me five crosses."
#2: A pastor was speaking to a Sunday school class about the things money can’t buy. “It can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. Driving his point home, he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1000 not to love your mother and father?” Stunned silence ensued. Finally, a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?”
#3: An old couple was sitting by the fireside. He looked over at her, had a romantic thought, and said, “After fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.”
The wife’s hearing wasn’t very good, so she said, “What?”
He repeated, “After fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.”
“After fifty years, I’m tired of you too,” she replied.
10) “That was John D. Rockefeller, Sr.”
The routine was the same every morning as the old lady's husband propped her into a sitting position on the sofa. A battered old typewriter was placed on a little table in front of her. Every day the old woman would begin to type. She could only use that one index finger to peck out the letters. This woman served God by translating Christian books into Russian. It was slow going--sometimes only typing a page or two a day but this was her way of loving God. She typed portions of the Bible as well as some of the books of Billy Graham and other Christian witnesses. The woman's attitude was extraordinary. She saw her sickness as a prerequisite, not a detriment, for the work she did. Every other Christian in the city was watched by the secret police. But because she had been sick for so long the police took no interest in her, and she could work undetected spreading the Good News of Jesus to a people who were starving for good news.
"Not only does she translate these books," her husband told Corrie, "but she prays while she types. Sometimes it takes a long time for her finger to hit the key, or for her to get the paper in the machine, but all the time she is praying for those whose books she is working on." [Annie Chapman, Smart Women Keep it Simple (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1992), pp. 151-152.] That's loving God.
(Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
Years ago, there was a movie called Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was about a seven-year-old boy who went to live with his grandfather, a wealthy man who had many people working under him. The old man was basically selfish and mean. But the little boy idolized him so much that he couldn’t see this. He thought his grandfather was generous and kind. Over and over he would say to him, “Grandfather! How people must love you! I’ll bet they love you almost as much as I do.” The little boy’s love gradually softened the old man’s heart, and he became the kind of person his grandson thought him to be. This story is like a parable of Jesus. It shows how his love for us can change us and give us the power to become the kind of loving people he sees we can be. -Arthur Godfrey, the early TV star, used to keep a sign that read: 'The fire, Lord, not the scrap heap'. He said the sign reminded him of a story about a blacksmith who suffered much illness but still maintained a strong faith in God. When an unbeliever asked the blacksmith how he could keep trusting God in spite of his illness, he replied: “When I make a tool, I take a piece of iron and put it into the fire. Then I strike it on the anvil to see if it can take temper. If it does, I can make a useful article out of it. If not, I toss it on the scrap heap.” When we suffer because of love, we can rejoice because we know that God is using us. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).
“I have broken the commandment of men…”
In order to ask a good question I think you need to have noble motives behind the question. You have to want to know the truth. The Pharisees, by contrast, already had the answers to their questions. They felt they already knew the truth. How many times have we had it in for someone, asking a question designed to trap them? We do it to our loved ones all the time. In a moment like this we are not trying to learn; we are trying to injure.
The Pharisees come to Jesus once again with a question designed to do damage to the reputation of Jesus. And once again Jesus proves he is equal to the task. Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Now, even though this question was used to test Jesus, it is nonetheless an important question. Perhaps in the life of Israel at that time it was THE most important question. But Jesus had a question of his own. A question, which signified that the times were changing; a new theological season had come. He put this question to the same Pharisees who had tested him: "What do you think of the Messiah. Whose son is he?"
These were the two most important questions of that era and my friends they are the two most important questions of our time. Let us consider...
2. What Do You Think of the Messiah?
We like things short and sweet. Network television news has time only to hit the high spots and to show us a few pictures, but it gives us the big picture in a few minutes. We like that.
I used to have to sit through weekly staff meetings. Sometimes they would go on for two hours, because everyone wanted to have their say. Then we got a new boss who limited each of us to one overhead slide. Each slide had about ten lines, so each person could show us the status of ten programs -- max. We had to code each program green, yellow, or red. Green meant that everything was o.k. Yellow meant that there was a problem. Red meant, "The sky is falling!" Furthermore, we weren't to ramble. Stand up! Speak up! Shut up! Sit down! I loved it, because we got through the meetings quickly, and I could get back to work.
That's what the lawyer said to Jesus -- Give it to me in a nutshell. At least, we think that's what he meant. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Do you know, or should I call Pew Research?"
Richard Niell Donovan, In a Nutshell
The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing--to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.