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22 Pentecost, Year A: The Law Teaches

Sunday’s Readings

22 Pentecost, October 29

Deut. 34:1-12 or Lev. 19:1-2, 15-18
Ps. 90:1-6, 13-17 or Ps. 1
1 Thess. 2:1-8Matt. 22:34-36

“Saint Augustine” by Philippe de Champaigne | Los Angeles County Museum of Art, via Wikipedia

What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love your neighbor?

To love God is to offer oneself as a complete and total self-oblation: heart, soul, and mind: the heart being the inward person and seat of emotion, the soul signifying a vital life force, and the mind indicating rational perception and reflection. In sum, God is loved by the whole person. Love, however, cannot be love unless it is freely given.

St. Augustine is a great teacher on this point. Commenting on John 6:44 (“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me”), Augustine insists that drawn could never mean a violation or overthrow of the will (to be forced). “Do not think that you are drawn unwilling,” he says (Commentary on St. John, tract 26:4-6). “You are drawn perhaps a little by the will, but also by desire. What is it to be drawn by desire? Delight in the Lord and he will give to you the petitions of your heart. There is a certain desire of the heart to which the celestial bread is sweet. Indeed, it is right of the poet to say, ‘Every person is drawn by his own desire’ (Virgil, Ec. 2), not necessity, but desire, not obligation, but delight — how much stronger we ought to say that a person is drawn to Christ, who delights in the truth, delights in blessedness, delights in justice, delights in eternal life, all of which is Christ?” (my translation). Going toward God and giving oneself to him is the consummation of every blessing. In a sense — an example among others Augustine uses — to be drawn is to fall in love. To love in this way is to expand one’s horizons infinitely, evermore toward one’s good.

What does it mean to love one’s neighbor? This too is a matter of self-giving, although it is carefully gauged in reference to our neighbor’s needs and our needs. This love is deeply relational and contextual and is always being adjusted. What does the moment require? What builds up the human community? There is, indeed, very much we can do for each other in fostering a more humane life. Strikingly and rightly, Scripture often highlights not so much what we should do, but what we should avoid. Namely, we are not to hurt our neighbor.

The text from Leviticus addresses certain prohibitions in the cause of social cohesion and justice. “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” With the exception of one positive command, to reprove, all the commands are negative and, in a sense, intensified by the statement, “I am the Lord!” Before all else, we are not to hurt or harm one another.

Speaking of God’s transcendence, it is often said that he is “wholly other.” There is transcendence — an otherness — encountered also in every human being because every person is an infinite mystery with infinite depths, bearing a vocation toward divine communion. There is an inviolable dignity to the human person that cries out against abuse.

Look It Up: Leviticus 19:1

Think About It: Reverence God and your neighbor as holy.


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