Loving in the concrete

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

"I love humanity. It's people I hate," says Peanuts, the world famous comic-strip character. Jesus says no to this. "Humanity" is a mere abstraction, a concept. It is does not exist as such. But people do. It is flesh and blood people we are asked to love -- like you, me and every one else. We see this very clearly in the gospel reading (Mt. 22:34-40) when a scholar of the law poses this question to Him: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

The question seems simple but is really not. It is said that there are 613 precepts in the Law of Moses and there are many interpretations as to their order of importance. With this question, Jesus is asked to state on which laws are all other laws measured against.

In response, Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter: Love. And in this hierarchy of love, the "greatest and the first" is, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And lest the same scholar would think that that is all, Jesus immediately adds: "The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Though separate in the Old Testament (love of God is found in Deut. 6,5 and of neighbor in Lev. 19,18), Jesus is teaching that the two are parts of the same reality: love. We cannot love one and exclude the other. As St. John the Evangelist says in one of his letters, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1Jn. 4:20). In short, love is at the heart of the law, its very heart.

We could have wished that Jesus stopped with the first and greatest commandment -- love of God. Then we would have been satisfied with attending Mass on Sundays, saying our prayers and novenas and giving a little contribution for the support of the Church. But no. Jesus makes one the prerequisite of the other.

In the Old Testament, God says it in a way that can not be misunderstood: "If you do wrong to any widow or orphan, my wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans." He adds, "If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, and take his cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak is his only covering for his body. Otherwise, what else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate," (First reading: Ex. 22: 20-26). Thus God wants us to show our love for Him by doing good to others.

This reality is also clear in the Ten Commandments: the first three give us our duties in love to God while the last seven, our duties in love to our fellowmen. So is it true in the prayer Jesus Himself taught us, The Lord's Prayer. In the first part, we pray to God; in the second part, we pray for ourselves and our fellow humans.

With this, Jesus does not want us to think that loving God and neighbor are two separate compartments in our lives, that to do one and neglect the other is alright. No. Loving God has in fact everything to do with being kind and charitable toward our neighbors, specially those who are most in need. Loving God has everything to do with being just in our dealings with others, sharing our resources to help others live a life befitting their dignity as human beings and children of God, forgiving, etc. In the divine plan, love for God is never separated from love of flesh and blood people. Put another way, though God must always come first, there is no true love of Him which is not incarnated in love of neighbor.

Concretely speaking, are not the best moments of our lives those spent in loving and caring for others? This happens when a mother spends sleepless nights to care for a sick child. This happens when from the little we have, we share food or money or both with someone really in need. This happens when we set aside our pride and ask for forgiveness or extend forgiveness, thus bringing back peace in our relationships. It is in these moments when we forget ourselves. And love is precisely this: forgetting ourselves as we reach out to others in care and service as well as in swallowing our pride as we ask to be forgiven and forgive in turn. In short, Christian love is characterized by concrete acts of caring for, serving, and forgiving each other.

Thus to the degree that we love our neighbor, to that degree, too, do we love God. And to repeat, our love for God cannot be separated from that of our neighbor; each is a check on the other.

Our love for God is shown in our love and service to real, individual fellow human beings, not to humanity as such, as Peanuts asserts. Let this be our daily goal and task.