30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 29, 2017)
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
If I asked you to recite the 10 commandments, could you? I mean, there are only 10 of them, right? Now don’t avoid eye contact with me. I’m not going to quiz anyone today because I don’t want to embarrass anyone in front of the Catholic priest over there. If you struggle with remembering all 10, don’t feel bad… even this Deacon has trouble sometimes naming them all. But if you think remembering 10 commandments is hard… did you know that the Jewish people have 613 commandments?? 10 doesn’t sound so bad anymore, now does it…
In today’s Gospel, referring to the 613 commandments, a Pharisee asks Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with everything you have. Heart, soul and mind. Everything. But then, without being asked, he names the second most important commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus goes yet even further and says that all of the 613 commandments are dependant on these two… Love God, Love neighbor.
As many of you have already heard, my mom died unexpectedly three weeks ago. She was 68 years old and without any serious, life threatening conditions to our knowledge. She had a lot of chronic health concerns and underwent more surgeries than most, but it was still a shock when we got the news.
In the funeral-planning book that she gave my brother and I awhile back, it stated that she did not want to have a funeral but did allow for a visitation. My brother took on the task of planning the majority of the visitation and that was ok… because who really likes to deal with those decisions? I was still in shock and those decisions made things seem all too real. And I was fine with not dealing with reality at the moment.
So a little less than a week after her sudden death, Angie and I loaded our 5 kids up in the minivan and headed to Ohio for her visitation. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it at all. I don’t particularly enjoy crying in front of others and I still had a lot of unanswered questions as to “why” this happened. It was going to be a very emotional weekend that I wasn’t ready for at all.
But now, looking back… that visitation was the best thing for me.
Of course it was sad. But it was very healing as well. So many of my mom’s friends, neighbors and church family came up to us, one after another and told us stories of how much my mom helped them in their lives. From going out to dinner, helping with landscaping around the condos, to praying for others at the adult Sunday school she attended…. The stories I heard about my mom’s giving heart put a smile on my face. I didn’t realize just how much she was involved in the community and enjoyed helping others.
Towards the end of the visitation, a man from mom’s adult Sunday school class got up to offer prayers and give a short talk about the Joan Wentz he had come to know. He talked about how my mom loved God, showed concern for others, and was always willing to help out however she could, in spite of her chronic aches and pains. This was comforting to hear because for some reason, she and I never really talked about faith very much. She was proud that I was involved in my faith and became a Deacon. I was proud that she found a church that she loved and got involved in. But we didn’t have many deep talks about God. However, when that night’s visitation had come to a close, there was no doubt in my mind of two things…. My mom loved God and she loved her neighbors.
Now, what about you? Where do you struggle in this intimate connection between loving God and loving your neighbor?
If you claim to love God, but you gossip, hate, hold grudges and ignore your friends, family and neighbors…. you do not truly love God to the fullest.
If you are the life of the party, the person everyone wants to be around and you’re the nicest person in the world to everyone… but ignore God… you do not truly love your neighbor to the fullest.
You see… this is a both-and. Jesus is telling us that the most important thing we can do as Christians is to love God AND love our neighbors. Just a little heads up…. Loving God is the easier of the two in my opinion. Loving some of His creations… a little bit trickier.
The reason for this is because God loves unconditionally and forgives totally. You do something wrong, you sin…. Confess it to God and make an honest attempt to not do it again. God will wipe that sin away and continue to offer His love and mercy without any strings attached.
We are the ones that hold grudges… we are the ones that can be a little judgmental… we are the ones who have trouble telling the whole truth… we are the ones who struggle with forgiveness of others and ourselves.
So on behalf of God, as one of His Deacon’s in the Catholic Church, I’m begging you… STOP IT! Stop living in the struggle. Stop living with grudges and burdens. Trust in the Lord that His plan is greater than yours. Forgive others completely. Love one another fully. Love your family, friends and neighbors without strings attached.
Life is precious…. and as I found out 3 weeks ago… can end suddenly and without warning. So while there is still breath in your lungs and a beat to your heart… smile more, laugh louder, hug tighter, spread joy wherever you go and most importantly… Love God and your neighbor… to the fullest!