20 Pentecost, October 15
When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Holy Eucharist I, p. 324, BCP).
The first and great commandment is a total and absolute commitment of love toward the source of all being. The object, though the word object is not quite right, of this love is no contingent or temporal thing. Rather, the heart, soul, and mind are called to ascend above all created beings until they rest in a presence that can seem strangely like an absence. “Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high?” asks the Psalmist (Ps. 113:5). God is “enthroned” above all creation, and yet he warrants and elicits our love because, in love and mercy, “God stoops to behold the heavens and the earth” (Ps. 113:6).
Seeing God present in the world, it is almost inevitable that we may see things as gods. Indeed, there is a deep human need to fixate on something as the object of adoration. An old story illustrates this. “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel” (Ex. 32:1-6).
Unable to bear the absence of Moses and the apparent absence of God, “They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Ps. 106:19-20). St. Paul describes it this way: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (Rom. 1:23). They had forgotten how to reverence things properly by acknowledging that they are not God, though they are a manifestation of the mind of God. They are because God wills their being; in this way, everything may be a sacramental sign without depriving God of full honor, our wholehearted praise, and all the treasure of our love.
Jesus tells a story about a wedding feast. A king gives a banquet for his son. Those who were invited would not come. Some made light of it. Hearing the invitation, some returned to their farm work, some to their business. Finally, after the king sent emissaries into the main street to invite everyone, some came. These contemplatives ascend toward love, leaving everything for the joy of a wedding banquet hosted by the king of love.
Look It Up: Genesis 1 and 2
Think About It: God is “all loves excelling.”