Fifteenth Sunday: Living the Law of Love
It is not so high as the sky, that some will cry, “Who will bring it down to us?” Nor is it far across the sea, that some will call, “Who will journey and get it for us?” No, the law of God, the way of God is already in your mouths and in your hearts. You have only to carry it out. This is our first reading for this week, from the Book of Deuteronomy.
It is said that as a young priest, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, developed a style as a confessor and counselor that challenged people to look within themselves. They had the truth. They had to recognize it and live it. There was no hiding what choices had to be made behind some written law somewhere or other. They and we know what is right. We have to act on our consciences.
Certainly, there is no written law detailing what to do if we come across someone in dire need of our help. There is no written law that says that we have to stop our car and see why a four year old is walking alongside a busy road, all alone. There is no written law that says that the old man in the walker should have someone help him take in his garbage barrels, but we know in our hearts what we need to be doing and what we need to be avoiding.
In what is probably the best known parable in the gospels, the Good Samaritan, we are presented with a young man who is looking to serve God. He knows that we need to love the Lord our God with our whole minds, hearts and souls, and love our neighbor as ourselves, but he wants to cover all bases and asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus presents two Temple ministers, a Levite and a priest. These people know the law, at least theoretically. They also know that if they touch someone who the law said would be defiled in any way, they could not perform their service in the Temple. They had the written law, but they did not have the law of God in their hearts. So they walked pass the injured man on the side of the road.
The Good Samaritan did not base his actions on the written law. He based his actions on the Law within his heart, the Law of Love. The Samaritan’s were a mixed people, part Jewish and part pagan. The Jews called them half breeds and looked down on them for selling out to the pagans. But the Good Samaritan knew the Law better than the Temple priest and Levite. He did what a person who loves God would naturally do: care for someone who was hurting.
Love. Our society speaks so much about love that the Christian concept of love can be lost in psycho-babble. Way back, there was a movie called Love Story that claimed: “Love is never having to say you are sorry.” What hogwash. Love is always saying you are sorry. Married people are always forgiving and accepting the others forgiveness. We love God, but we are continually going to confession. We seek and receive forgiveness because we know that we are loved.
Obviously, love is far deeper than the natural draw of two people towards each other. When we were young, infatuation was the basis of so many relationships and the end of the relationship when infatuation moved to another person. Some adults still live as adolescents, limiting their concept of love to feelings.
Nor is love lust. We are not animals. We can control our physical desires. What a horrible indictment of our young people when parents feel they need to put their daughters on birth control because neither they nor their boyfriends will be able to control themselves. This is really degrading to both kids. It also does not show a whole lot of faith in their parenting.
Let’s go back to John Paul the Great. The pope wrote: “Love is not fulfilling oneself through the use of another. Love is giving oneself to another, for the good of the other, and receiving the other as a gift.”
That’s an extremely powerful statement. Often a person will say to another, “I need you to complete me. I need you to fulfill me.” Some people throw this into their wedding ceremony. Perhaps a husband and wife may say this to each other. Here’s a shocker: this is not correct. We need each other to draw closer to God, but it is God, not the other person who completes our being, who fulfills our purpose for living. That is the reason why we do not need to marry to grow in love. The object of all real love is God. Some people are not called to marriage. Some are called to the single life. But all are called to love God.
The law of God is written in our hearts. We don’t need written rules to govern every aspect of our lives. We don’t need a law that says that as Christians we can’t pass by injured travelers. In the parable, even a Samaritan, knew that. We reach out to others because through them we are reaching out to God.
The lawyer’s question may not have been sincere. He may have been more concerned with testing Jesus then with finding a true answer. But we are genuine when we ask his question: What is it that we need to do to inherit eternal life? Or, more directly, how can we love God? Jesus gives us the answer: we need to look within ourselves and reach out to God’s Presence wherever our hearts find Him.