It happens to all of us. We get so wrapped up in the busyness of life that we forget what is most important. It seems that we are always rushing, that there is something else to get done. With all the demands of our daily life, we can overlook the beauty of the world around us and, sad to say, the love of the people who are most important to us. And when we do finally have some time to ourselves, we find ourselves too exhausted to do anything except sit in front of the television. Because we are so anxious to get all our chores done, we too often lose time with the family and friends who give meaning to our lives.
Jesus was very good at keeping focused on the things that matter most. He never gets caught up in the petty squabbles of the religious and political leaders of his day. Rather He moves about with the poor, calls sinners to follow Him and heals the sick. Jesus knew what was important, and He would never allow anyone to steer Him away from serving His Heavenly Father.
Over the past few Sundays, we have listened to how the religious leaders of the day were trying to trick Jesus. They hoped to catch Him saying something either against the Roman authorities or against the Jewish law so that He could be discredited with the people and get in trouble. Such is the case in today’s gospel. The lawyer hopes that He will pick one of the commandments of the law to the exclusion of others. However, Jesus goes back to what is most basic. Every commandment, every teaching of the Scripture, every law and regulation has one point - to teach us how to love. Love of God and love of neighbor is at the heart of religion. When we love, we fulfill the law.
We see this clearly in the life of Jesus. Saint John tells us that it was because God loved the world that He sent His Son. Jesus came for no other reason than to reveal the Father’s love for us. Everything Jesus said and did was motivated by love. He heals the sick to show God’s concern for them. He calls tax collectors and prostitutes to show God’s love for sinners. Even when He puts the religious leaders in their place, He is doing it out of love to show them that there is a better way to know and serve God than by just following rules. And the greatest act of love was His death on the cross. Jesus shed every drop of His blood for us. He did it because He loves us. And all He asks is that we love God and one another in return.
What is going on in our lives that is distracting us from what is most important? What is so urgent that it is keeping us from showing love to those we care about? Can we put our daily activities on hold for a few minutes to listen to a friend or give a hug to our children? Can we put aside our chores for a few minutes to quiet our minds and lift our hearts to God in prayer thanking Him for all that is good and beautiful ? It does not take much effort. But if we do slow down long enough to acknowledge our God and pay attention to our precious loved ones, we will see our stress level diminishing and our interior peace increasing. As we stay focused on what’s most important, the minor details of our day will not seem as pressing. And we can enjoy all the blessings that God in His love lavishes us with.
We can all agree that love is a good and beautiful thing. Each of us would also agree that we could use more of it. But love can also be a scary thing. It demands so much from us. When it comes to religion, it is so much easier to just follow the rules than it is to actually love our neighbor. It is so much easier to sit through Mass than it is to give money to a homeless person or volunteer at a soup kitchen. The same is true with our families. It is so much easier to keep busy cleaning the house than it is to actually sit down and listen to our children. It is so much easier to work overtime than to get home early and surprise our husbands or wives with a night out. But, in the end, it is just such sacrificing that makes our lives worthwhile. We were created to love, and we are never as happy and as fulfilled than when we are putting the needs and interests of others before our own.
Probably the biggest complaint about religion is that there are too many rules. Well, today Jesus tells us that there is only one simple commandment we need to be concerned with. We are to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus showed us the way to love by giving His life on the cross. As He has loved us, we are to love one another by sacrificing ourselves for each other. It means visiting a lonely person, taking time to listen to a neighbor who is hurting or reaching out to a stranger who looks as though he could use a friend. They are small and simple steps but, when done with love, they have the power to change the world.