Friday of the Third Week of Lent

 …when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him,
"You are not far from the Kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

This conversation between a scribe and Jesus concluded a series of discussions that had not been half as friendly. Suddenly, it seems, his critics realized Jesus stood squarely within their ancient tradition, and that his answers to their challenges could not be refuted. There was at last a peaceful rapprochement as the opponents contemplated the greatest commandment.

If my reading is correct, it fits Saint Mark's pattern of surprising us with the unexpected. Jesus' opponents, at this point, have been more than defeated; they have had to admit he is right! To ponder this miracle, try to remember the last time you actually won an argument and your opponent admitted you were right! (If memory serves me, it was back in nineteen-something.) 

Their final challenge involved the "greatest commandment" of Moses' law. Certainly, we must render unconditional, unrestrained love to God. That's almost a no-brainer; a "softball," to use political jargon. The second one is like it, however, and that's a surprise: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

In the Christian dispensation, the two laws are linked like inhaling and exhaling, like a single breath. No one should dare suppose he observes one without the other.

The measure of my love for God is my love for others. That principle humiliates my pretensions. 

But there are people who say we need not love God, that we should invest our energies in the well being of others. I think the same principle must apply, "The measure of my love for others is my love of God." 

Without that sobering thought, the ego lies hidden in one's "love" for either one or the other. Whichever I prefer, God or my neighbor, the preference -- the act of preferring -- betrays the presence of self. 
The east end of Lake Mt St Francis
in winter, with ducks
The love of neighbor without the love of God will inevitably attempt to "do well by doing good." Why shouldn't I also enjoy the fruits of my labor? A lot of sales people sold painkillers in the name of doing good; some of them have been prosecuted, some have fled to Canada. 

Likewise, the love of God -- or "Jesus" -- without the love of neighbor may fill one with many sentimental thoughts but the isolation is treacherous. 

Led by the Spirit the Christian pays attention to God and to the neighbor. She is led from prayer to action and from action to prayer. Both loves are challenging, both are satisfying. The self may rest in the assurance that, although my love must always be inadequate, God's mercy will complete what my love cannot. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.