The command to love

Anger is a difficult emotion that perhaps gets a bad reputation from our experience as children and being told that it is wrong to feel angry. Yet in our first reading from Exodus 22:20-26 we hear about the kinds of things that make God angry – when the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the foreigners, the vulnerable ones are dealt with harshly or with injustice. Anger can be a great driver for us to know what is worth fighting for in our world.

The Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees (about the question of the resurrection) they gathered together. One of them asked a question to test him disconcert him, “Master-which commandment (out of the 613 mitzvot) is the greatest?” Within the first five books of Moses, the Torah, there are a total of 248 positive prescriptive commandments with 365 negative prohibitive commandments. The answer that Jesus offers is drawn from the daily liturgical prayer and creedal statement of Israel, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and called the Shema after the first word:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and you shall love (ahavah) the Lord your God with all your heart (lev), soul (nephesh) and strength (me’od). (Deut 6:5)

A second is like it: love (ahavah) your neighbour as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

The answer that Jesus gave is so traditional that nobody would really contradict him, and yet so deeply searching that everyone would be challenged by it. Both commandments are connected by the Hebrew idea of love. Ahavah – is a rich and diverse concept in Hebrew. Ahavah includes a range of love experiences: parental, brotherly, affection, marital, friendship, well-ordered relationship. God loves because he loves. It is his character. Jeremiah 31:3 “God’s love is everlasting” → it has no beginning or ending. Just an eternal fact. Ahavah is not only a feeling, it is an action. God’s love is not a sentiment; it is something God does. We are called to respond to God’s ahavah by showing ahavah in return. I show my love for God by how I treat the people around me.

We need to learn from what God is like in his treatment of the small and vulnerable and apply that learning to our own lives. When we receive God’s love in prayer and worship, then we must ask for opportunities to share that love with others. Love is always a verb, an action. Let us pray for an opportunity today to put our love into action in the life of at least one other person.

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Sunday 30, Year A. Exodus 22:20-26; Matthew 22:34-40

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