This morning’s Gospel takes place soon after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Sadducees and the Pharisees question Jesus one last time with the Pharisees again attempting to trip him up. As the great lawyers of their day, the Pharisees try to stump Jesus with a question on the Law. “Which law,” they ask, “is the greatest?” To this Jesus responds in the Levitical tradition by reciting the Shema,” Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone, You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) But then Jesus goes a step further by adding a second law: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The concept of Love is an important one in our Christian lives. So important, in fact, one of my spiritual directors would regularly remind me how he believed when the time comes for us to be judged by God we will be asked one question, “how did you love in this life?”
How have you. . .How have we. . . loved in this life? It is a hard question to answer. For the most part I am not sure we truly know what love is. Yes, I accept as a society we know how to use the word. So often we state how much we truly love something, whether it is a movie we recently saw or an article of clothing we recently bought. Or, how we may absolutely “love” being with someone.
However, when love is mentioned in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament, the authors are referring to something far deeper than our admiration for someone or for an article of clothing. For example, in the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the reader, among the virtues of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest. As one studies the Gospels, we find Jesus not only teaches us to love, he also demonstrates the depth of God’s love by his willingness to endure crucifixion on our behalf.
Love, the New Testament tells us, is more than admiration for God, or the loyalty of our friendship or even the loyalty of our family bonds. Love is about the Greek concept of agape. Agape is translated by the King James Version as charity as demonstrated through compassion. I believe what we will be asked at the day of our judgment is, how have we shown compassion for others.
In Luke, when asked, ”teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life,” Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, those who are deemed the most righteous, appear to miss the point of the law when they fail to show compassion to help a dying man out of fear of personal defilement. However, one person, the Samaritan, who is deemed least righteous and least pure, is the one who actually walks the walk of the Torah by being compassionate to the beaten man.
In Matthew, Jesus tells the crowd that when we show compassion for the least of his children by feeding the hungry, tending the sick, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the imprisoned we are, in fact, offering compassion to Jesus himself. Finally, in Matthew as well, Peter asks Jesus “Are we to forgive someone as many as seven times?” To this Jesus responds by telling Peter our compassion for one another has to go further than that, by forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven.
In recent weeks, I have spoken frequently on what it means to be an Apostle, to be one who is sent into the world by Christ. In response, I have been asked, “But what we are sent out to do?” For so long, we have been taught we are sent out to evangelize, to “share the Gospel” in the same way Philip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch in the book of Acts. However, what we are really being sent out to do is to offer the love and the compassion of Christ to the world with our whole being.
For me, St Theresa of Avila describes apostleship best with the following words:
‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In 2008, I witnessed this form of compassion during our family tour of Italy. On the last night of the trip, our tour guide, Paul, arranged what he called the last supper, a multiple course meal at a small restaurant in Rome. After we had eaten our way through the plethora of dishes piled high with Roman delights, Paul asked to have our leftovers packed up and brought to him. I found this rather odd knowing all of us would be boarding a plane for the States early the next morning. But this didn’t seem to concern Paul as we left the restaurant and headed via the back alleyways of Rome to the Spanish Steps.
About half way to our final destination, Paul spotted a homeless man lounging in the shadows just a few feet away and stopped to speak with him. Getting down on one knee and speaking in Italian, Paul offered the man our left over food. A conversation ensued which Paul later explained included the man requesting money for what he assumed was to buy either alcohol or drugs. To this,Paul kindly and without a hint of judgement in his voice declined the man’s request for money explained all he could offer was the food. Which at the end the man gladly accepted.
As we walked away I realized I had witnessed what compassion looks like and clearer understanding of what it means to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. May we seek to do likewise in the days ahead