3rd Friday of Lent
I have always found today’s gospel interesting and provoking. The scribe asks Jesus which was the first of all commandments. Jesus tells him the first is to love God above all else. Then Jesus goes on to the second, to love the neighbor as oneself. If I were the scribe, I would wonder why Jesus was giving me two when I had just asked for the first of all commandment. But then, comes the catch that would stop the question in its tracks. Jesus casually says there is no other commandment greater than these. In one fell swoop He has linked two commandments into one. Love of God and love of neighbor and finally the invisible middle term that is missed out, love of oneself all are inextricably linked with love of God leading the pack.
For instance if the Church just goes on a binge of good works and social activism, She becomes a glorified NGO in Pope Francis’ words. If we think we can love our neighbor without the love of God, there is always the hook – what’s in it for me? My generosity is more about getting stroked than sacrificing for others. Unlike genuine love which can suffer, it does not stand the test of time. Or if we ‘love God’ and no one else, we become Pharisees. When I was in the seminary, the big thing was you cannot love others without loving yourself. So love yourself first. Unfortunately if you start from that end, you enter a rabbit hole from which you never emerge. Self-love cannot be cured by more self-love. St Paul tells us pretty categorically in the letter to Titus – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. This is the structure of self-love. The tomb we all live in without Christ.
It is only when the goodness and loving kindness of God becomes real to us that we can love ourselves and our neighbor as ourselves. The love of God poured out into our hearts is broken open .This is the unflagging testimony of the Scriptures and tradition, the liturgy. It is also the experience of our hearts. The love of the Father for the Son, the Son for the Father and the Father and Son for the Spirit is always a love that is totally other, broken open. Creation as gift, is love broken open. Redemption and grace is love broken open, springing up unbidden in our lives. The Eucharist is love broken open. To live in love that is broken open is to be invited and even pushed past the comfort zones of self-love. For how can we receive such love that is structurally broken open and not be in turn broken open?