Deacon Cornell's Homily


Exodus 22: 20-26
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40


October 25-26, 2008 - Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

As with so many profound truths, these two great commandments sound so simple but in reality are deep and mysterious. So they are much easier said than done. Jesus presents these two commandments as one that cuts through all the complexities of the law and the prophets to what is at the heart of the matter: love. But this commandment to love God and neighbor is not without a context, some arbitrary requirement imposed on us out of nowhere. The context is that in the first place, God loves us. God created us out of love and God extends to us an invitation to participate in the inexpressible love that is the essence of our triune God. In other words,

Like every offer of love, it is scary because to respond to true love with true love is an incredibly deep and fundamental decision for any person to make. Love binds us more fully than any law or any discipline. We men know this instinctively which is why we have such reputation for avoiding intimacy. We understand it is not something to be done lightly. There is no partial response in true love. It is all or it is nothing.

So why is it so hard to respond in kind to God's invitation to love? Well it has to do with the nature of love, and the nature of humans which includes original sin. True love requires that we live in the tension between responsibility and trust. Because of original sin, we humans tend to lean too much towards one or the other. On the trust side, we want God to do it all. After all God is all powerful. Why shouldn't God take all the responsibility. We interpret the wisdom of that AA aphorism to "Let go and let God" to mean that we just give up and let God do it all. That is fine if we are a baby but it is not true love.

On the responsibility side we tend to want to control everything. This is the primary thing that keeps from living out the two great commandments. Instead of loving, we become attached to people, to things, even to ideas. These attachments stand in the way of our truly loving. The word attachment comes from a French word that means "nailed to". We see how attachments stand in the way of love most vividly at the extremes of attachment which we call addiction. But if we look in our lives honestly we see that there are a whole host of attachments that condition us and control us, keeping us from truly loving.

Let me use an analogy that has helped me understand how this all works. Imagine that a young child who has been physically and emotionally abused by his parents is placed in the care of a truly loving family. Just because that child is now in a loving family doesn't mean that he will be able to accept that love and respond to it. It may take a long time, if ever, for him to overcome the coping mechansms that developed during his abuse. Over time he will have to develop trust that his new parents will not abuse him, that they do not want to control him, and that he does not have to have control over them to keep from being hurt. He will also have to develop responsibility for his own actions, coming to a realization that even when he does something wrong, his new parents will continue to love him. The new parents cannot do it alone. And the child cannot do it alone. Healing and flourishing requires this combination of the parents loving the child, and the child deciding to, and then living out a loving response. And if he manages to heal and respond in love, he will develop into a person who positively contributes to everyone he meets. So the gift of his adopted parents is not just for him but for everyone he has a relationship with in his life. We all know that the reverse is true as well.

So this helps me to understand the relationship between these two commandments and baptism and sin. Sin is not the things we do or don't do; those are the effects of sin. When we lie it is the breakdown of our relationship with the one we lie to that leads us to think we need to lie, to avoid punishment, or to gain some control over. Original sin is not some act or lack of action, nor is it original in the sense of unique or the first of its kind. It is the origin of all sin. It is that tendency that humans have to want to control, to be God. Even little innocent babies are born with it. Original sin corrupts our ability to respond in love. Baptism incorporates us into a truly loving family that gives us the ideal environment for overcoming this tendency to attach ourselves to people and things rather than love them. But we have the free will to decide to respond or not. If we do, and even then it will be a gradual deepening of that response, then that gift of love God gives us, and shows us through this human family will be not just for us but for the benefit of all creation. For as we gradually begin to respond to that love with which we are loved, we will share that love with those around us, loving them as we love ourselves, making God's love incarnate here and now.

Love requires that we let God's grace, God's love, transform us, and at the same time we act on that love, taking responsibility for our actions. It is hard enough to love another human that way because the other is an Other that we do not control no matter how we might try. When the Other is God, who is truly, completely Other we realize that there is no chance to control or even manipulate because this God is in our very cells and knows our every thought. So simple to say; so hard to do. But what a wonderful gift!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The salvation of the world depends on these two commandments.

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