It wasn’t a relationship with a lot of promise. The beginning was in a prison, then they went into a trash compactor, then a firefight. Romantic, right? Not long after they met, he said he’d either kill her or marry her. She warmed up to him right away as well, calling his partner a “walking carpet” and questioning his character. But they loved each other: she took a huge risk to save him from suspended animation and together they were part of the last battle when the Empire fell: Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa. Love wasn’t just a passing fancy or warm fuzzy snuggle with them; it was work and it was putting their lives on the line for each other.
Jesus has come up to Jerusalem in the Gospel reading today, and is teaching in the Temple. One of the local scribes asks a question that every rabbi from the country gets asked: which is the greatest commandment? It’s a way to sizing up the newcomer, a test of credentials, a chance for him to show he can play in the intellectual big leagues. Jesus’ response is directly from the Torah: first, He invokes the Shema Yisroel, from our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, an ancient profession of faith of the Jewish people, that there is One God and He deserves the love of our entire being, then, He quotes Leviticus 19:18 about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. These two summarize the Law and the Prophets and they also summarize our faith. The answer Jesus doesn’t get much response from the resident scholar: he comments about how good they are and how complete they are and class is over. There isn’t anything important left to cover.
Our love for God and neighbor is key to our faith. It’s not something that’s easy to plug into: we don’t always have a consistent passion for Faith, and it’s tough to maintain the thrill. Sometimes we tend to take our love of God for granted: we know God loves us and we love God in return but we don’t think about it very often. Sometimes we have to fight for it: yell and scream and question. It’s a love we have to commit ourselves to, realizing it isn’t always going to be a warm, fuzzy teddy bear to snuggle with. It’s a love that’s a tough love sometimes, one we have to stick with.
When we talk about God’s love, that love is passionate, complete, vital. It’s not an intellectual concept, or a warm feeling: it’s a total commitment to us on God’s part and He asks the same in return. God knows us completely, with all the problems we have, and loves us completely in spite of it. How we respond to God is shown in how we care for each other. I had a friend in college who said we should serve man but serve God first. I don’t agree with that viewpoint: we serve God BY serving our fellow human beings, there is no other way. Even our gathering for the Eucharist at Christ’s command isn’t just our one on one encounter with Jesus, it’s something we do in prayer for the sake of the world, and its effects are there to build up the Kingdom of God here. About two thirds of the way through Eucharistic Prayer III it says: “May this sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.“
Loving God and loving Christ isn’t a contest, it’s not a competition, God doesn’t turn away from us if we don’t love him enough; we’ve not judged on our enthusiasm or energy to love Him. We are called to reflect on this love, increase this love, let this love permeate us completely, even to ecstasy. We can always love God more, there’s no worry about not finding enough of God to love or a new depth to reach. There are times we’ll be floating and times we’ll be almost empty, and every place in between.
Jesus shows us how to love. Jesus shows us how to pour ourselves out in love, sets that standard for giving in love. It’s not something we do easily, it’s not something we do causally, it’s not something we should do halfway. Living the Great Commandment, loving our God passionately and showing that is all we do is something we need help. Jesus comes here in His Body and Blood to help in that great effort.