In this beautiful homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly enjoins us to love as God loves.
First Reading: Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Second Reading: First Thessalonians 1:5-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
What can you say about love?
I mean, everything has been said so often: love here, love there; he loves me, he loves me not; love, love, love. You get kind of tired of the word love.
And perhaps we get a little tired of the word love because we use it so carelessly and the things that really aren’t love, but a disguise for love or a pretence for love, are easy on the lips.
Always when you go to see a movie, you notice that in nearly all the movies, love, love, love goes on until the very end. Of course, the end of the movie is the beginning of the marriage, usually, you see. And they don’t tell you that you have to love all your days in a married life and have to face all the problems that come with actual loving in marriage. It’s quite different from just romancing and singing songs and dancing and thinking.
But you don’t want to be dismissive either. It’s a sweet little word, love, when it’s used in times that it can touch your heart. And it can bring you alive, take away your sadness, make you feel happy again.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, is asked the question. And it’s funny the context of the question. You see, the Scribes and the Pharisees… It’s the last two weeks in Jesus’ life. He’s going to the temple every day now and he’s preaching his final preaching. And in two weeks he will be arrested and put on trial and found guilty and he will die. And they bring the question, “What is the most important Commandment?”
The Jewish people had a lot of Commandments. We think of only the ten, the Ten Commandments, but they had six hundred and seventy, and they’re still counting, you see. Perhaps the best way to understand when they said in the Scriptures what are the Commandments, we think of, say, the Bill of Rights as part of it, we think of the Constitution…
Because what they really meant by the Commandments of God was how He formed the community, and how that community was supposed to act, and how that community could make them from a raggedy bunch of slaves into a community that would last forever. And so far it’s lasted quite a number of years. But it will, it will last forever, this community.
So, when they talk about the Commandments, the Jews revered all of them – the smallest and the biggest and the Ten and the twenties and the thirties. But, basically, what it was was them putting down on paper what it was to be loved by God and to love God.
Because this is what Jesus does. All that writing, all that talking, all those sermons on Sunday, have only one, one subject and that is: love God with your whole heart and love your neighbour as yourself.
What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself?
What he’s really saying, if you follow the original words, he’s saying something that we should remember. This is the first lesson. He’s saying, “Love your neighbour because your neighbour is yourself, and if you hate your neighbour you’re hating yourself, and if you misuse your neighbour you’re misusing yourself, and if you’re going to war you’re warring against your neighbour, you see.”
Because there’s only one kind of love, for the Jews as for us, and that love is the love of God. And there is no limitations, choices, in the use of the word love for one who says, “God loves me and I love.”
And we forget that there’s no such thing as me just loving. Loving is a verb. It has an object: “I love this. I love that. I love you. I love him. I love God.”
Now, the first thing we have to know about love, then, is the nature of God’s love. Because the love with which we love each other is God’s love. God is the creator of love.
And God’s love is always going out. It’s not hoarding and bringing in. “Do you love me? If you really love me, you’ll do this, that and the other thing.” God didn’t say that.
It’s His love. But we must receive it and say, “Yes, the love I love my mother, my father, my sisters, my brothers, friends, people, that love is God’s love. The other stuff is what I might like, you know, or get along with or…”
But to love means to give your whole self, holding nothing back. If you’re holding things back, you really don’t know what love is yet. Love is a totality of surrender.
How do we know this?
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
And what did His Son do?
He died on a cross, a failure.
And why did he do that?
So that we might understand the great mystery is not that God loves us, but the kind of love that he loves us with. He would die and suffer and give his whole being as a human being, as a life. He would do that just for one of us.
And what does that say about us?
Well, we shouldn’t walk around saying we’re nothing and try to be humble. Yes, we should be humble in the way God was humble.
Remember the Last Supper? How is God humble?
We have to look at Jesus. Jesus is the incarnate God. What does he do?
The Last Supper, the first thing he does is tells his disciples he loves them. “It is with great joy I have waited for this occasion.”
And then what does he do?
He washes feet. God washes our feet. He washes feet. And Peter says, “You’re not washing my feet, because it’s a slave’s job”. And Jesus says, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you will never know who you are, and who you are in my Father’s eyes, and how precious and good you are, and you must not trash yourself.”
Sin is not something naughty. Sin is a refusal to return love. That’s what it is.
And so it is he washes their feet.
And how much would he love them?
He loves them to the very end, as Paul says.
How else would we know our true value?
We have so many ways of measuring value, you know. Like, when I was a kid, Ted Williams was the best hitter in baseball and we would consider him a god because, of all the players that you knew and grew up with and all the great hitters, Ted Williams was the best and the finest and the tops, you see.
That’s the way we measure. We measure A+. That’s a very big word now with all the kids getting ready for school. A+ is very high. Our measurement is, “Oh, how good is he?” “He’s A+.” Or, “Oh, how good is he?” “He’s a millionaire.” “Oh, how good is he?”
And then you come to God and you say, “Oh, how good is he?”
He washes feet. That’s how good he is. Because you could be anything and have all the other things but you could not stand before a human being and claim that you are better and superior than they are.
Because God does not make garbage. He only makes lovely, beautiful human beings. And when Jesus kneels to them, he is saying, “Respect each other. Realise your great dignity. Realise what you really are and pay no attention to all the little awards and everything that you are being handed out and hoping for and wanting.”
That’s love now. Love begins in the humility of God.
And how is it carried out?
It’s all around you. Every day, you’re using it the way you treat each other, the kindness you show, the concern you show. Out of your own desire to help others, you reach forth. This is what it is.
This is why it’s so important to remember that we don’t have a set of nice things to do so everybody will be happy. It’s the very nature of God. And His love is to show compassion, to show forgiveness, to show mercy, to walk two miles. As Jesus says: “If a man asks you to walk one mile with him, walk two miles, walk three miles.”
The whole gospel is teaching us how to love. And the only way we learn is letting Jesus come into our hearts and carrying him with us in the ordinariness of our lives. And then just to pick up a child and hug them is as great as Ted Williams batting .400 and the last one to ever bat so high in a baseball game.
Heaven is with us. Heaven is here. Heaven is now. Don’t wait for it, you know: be good and then you’re going to go to heaven. Heaven is here, because God is here. And God is here because His people are here. And every one of us is made in the image and the likeness of God. And then we say quickly, “And God is love.”
And that’s why today we come together each day, and come together whenever we come together no matter where we are.
This is the great secret, the great secret that comes with a baby born in a hopeless little country with a hopeless little village, in a hopeless little barnyard, to teach us one thing: the magnificence and greatness of life.
And we must treasure it and work on it. And we must feed it. And we must stay away from people who would divide us up into groups, make one higher than the other, or make our own kind of false values which can tear countries apart.
In the First World War, millions of men and women died. Today nobody knows why. Out of the futility of man, the inability to see his own greatness, that is why. And that is the great pain and shame.
And that’s what we have to make up for. We have to make up for our sins. We hate that word sin, but sin is a failure to love. Remember that now. It’s a failure to love. It’s a failure to become what you already are, what God has made you. He is asking you to rise where you belong, with Him.
Today, we celebrate Mission Sunday. When I was a kid in Brooklyn, Mission Sunday meant all those guys who went to China or Hong Kong and we were supposed to pray for them. Sister said, “Pray for those.”
Mission Sunday is much more than that. Mission Sunday is taking the mission of Jesus.
And what was Jesus’ mission?
To become man, to bring God to each and every person in this whole world, that they might experience, not only in their hearts but in their families and their friends, the lovely greatness of God Himself.
And we are all doing that all the time.
Do we fail?
Yes. The Bible says the good man falls seven times a day. So God isn’t expecting miracles in that kind of way.
What is He expecting?
He’s expecting that every time we fall and refuse to love, we get up again and keep moving forward.
And every step forward brings all of civilisation one step closer to realising our destiny, our importance, but, most of all, how much we are loved by a Creator who will not let go of us for all eternity.