• Text of Gospel Reading
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! The first part of this morning’s Gospel reading is one of my favorite sections of the entire Gospel. Christ so simply yet so profoundly lays the course of the Christian life out before us, almost like a road map. You can just look out across this lesson, and see entire spectrum of what Christian living is supposed to be. In today’s Gospel reading, we have summarized for us the entire teaching of God for mankind—from the Old Testament until Christ, God has consistently revealed one thing to man. Everything that Christ comes to tell us is contained in the phrase, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” In the following of this one commandment lies our salvation. And it sounds so simple. Love God. But what does it mean to love God? Does it just mean that we believe God’s real, and we believe the Bible, and we want to be with God and live in Heaven one day? Does it mean that we call ourselves Christians, and we tell other people about God? Does it simply mean that to love God is to say we love God? This really would make it simple. If loving God was just a vague desire to be with Him and have His blessings, then it would be something that everybody could accomplish fairly simply. But we know that this can’t be what loving God is. For one, in today’s passage Christ sums up the entire teaching of the Old Testament law with this one commandment. The fulfillment of the Old Law, not to mention the new life that Christ brings us, is incredible difficult. So we know that loving God can’t be something that doesn’t require anything of us. Christ says in another Gospel passage that loving God is the greatest and most important of all the commandments. So if loving God is all we’re called to do, if we can do everything God wants by loving Him, then we need to have a good understanding of what it means to love God. Firstly, we need to know why we should love God, and then we need to understand what the love of God means. This commandment Christ gives is not something new; He is actually quoting from Deuteronomy. And in Deuteronomy, God is calling the people to love Him because of all the things He has done for them. Throughout the Old Testament, God calls the people to love Him, and the reason He always gives is to remind them of all He’s done for them. God always acts first. St. John sums up the entire revelation of God, and perfectly answers the question why should man love God in his First Catholic Epistle: “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Without God we’re nothing, we wouldn’t even be here. Our only response, the only thing He wants and the only thing we have to offer, is gratitude and overwhelming love. So how do we love God? We know it’s what we need to do, and many of us even have the ardent desire to love God, or love God more than we feel like we do now. So what does it mean to love God? Christ said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Love is not just a shallow emotion. True love, the love we’re to have for Christ, is an active love. And it shouldn’t just be active in the sense of forcing ourselves to do what Christ commands. If we love God, if He’s more important to us than anything else in the world, then we’ll do the things that He asks us to do as outpouring of our love. We’ll follow the commandments of Christ. And we’ll do it out of a positive desire. Otherwise, the Scriptures say we don’t really love Him. If we don’t care to do His will, then we don’t love Christ. Who could be in a more pitiable position that the man who doesn’t love God. It’s like in a marriage—if a husband and wife love each other, then they’re always trying to fulfill one another. If I never show my wife that I love her, then how can she believe my words that I do? The classic example in Old Testament—if the bride says she loves her bridegroom, but constantly prostitutes herself with others, then how can the bridegroom believe that he is loved by his wife? [Hosea, etc.] The reason that all the commandments can be summed up in the simple phrase “Love God,” is that if we love God we’ll try with all of our effort to never do anything that would separate us from Him. If we love God, we will keep His commandments. We need no commandment but love. St. Augustine said, “Love, and do whatever you will.” He can say this because true love will never harm anyone. Love puts the other first. So if we love God, the things of God will be most important to us. And if we’re filled with this love for God, we don’t need anything else. We won’t need the oversight of the commandment police. We’ll jump to do the will of God if we have this love. But loving God in this way doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s hard to give our will to another. It’s hard to put the ways of God over the things we selfishly want in the world. So Christ gives us two measuring sticks. If you love Christ, you’ll do the things He told us to do. And as He said in the Gospel this morning, if you love God, you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. This doesn’t just mean you love your fellow man. And it doesn’t mean you love him in the same way that you love yourself. The call Christ gives is much higher. You love your fellow man as if he were you. You put his needs and will above your own. You pray for his salvation as ardently as you do your own. And, in fact, St. Silouan the Athonite says this commandment to love our neighbors culminates in a love that is purely God-like, a love that has no earthly comparison, but comes directly as a gift of God—the love of our enemies. In the Gospel reading today, Christ not only reveals the greatest of the commandments, but He provides a way for us to reflect, and see how much we love God, by asking ourselves “do I live the commandments of Christ?” and “do I love my neighbor as if he were me?” As we enter the season of the Nativity Fast this Wednesday (November 15, 2006), we have the perfect opportunity to reflect on our lives as followers of Christ. And any area where we find ourselves lacking—especially in our love for our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ—if we find ourselves lacking in any virtue, let us make wise use of the next forty days. Let us dedicate ourselves not only to a fast from food, but as St. John Chrysostom says, let us abstain from all sin. Let us set aside all things that separate us from the love of God. So that we can put His love in our hearts, His will in our minds and members, so that in all things we may be found well pleasing to God. Not only in our actions—but most importantly, in that we love Him above all other things. We’ll end with some words from the Holy Elder Porphyrios: Our relation to Christ is love…longing for the divine…He is our love. He is the object of our desire…The essence of the matter is for us to be with Christ; for our soul to wake up and love Christ and become holy…Let us love Christ for His sake only…Don’t love Him for His gifts…[rather say] “My Christ, whatever Your love dictates; it is sufficient for me to live within Your love”…However much you love Christ, you always think that you don’t love Him and you long all the more to love Him…Love of Christ is insatiable…the more it gives, the more we wish to fall in love…And without being aware of it, you go higher and higher…intoxicated with this divine inebriation…filled with divine eros…Wounded by the love of God. (Wounded by Love, pp. 96-101) May the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ fill your hearts and souls as we prepare for His Holy Nativity. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!