We humans have nearly infinite ways of complicating our lives, and that makes religion difficult to understand and even more difficult to live.

In the Hebrew Bible alone there are literally hundreds of rules and regulations about how the people of the Promised Land must live their daily lives : rules governing what can and cannot be said, what can/cannot be eaten, what can/cannot be worn, when work can be done and when it can't, whom to invite to dinner and whom not to invite, even when to have sexual intercourse and when not to. The list goes on and on, and many of these Hebrew laws were very similar to what today's church hierarchy demands of people.

Yes, there are plenty of churches of various faith traditions that continue to tell people how to live their lives. Some have lengthy, detailed books governing people's "dos" and "don'ts." The Roman church itself has over 2,000 specific rules and regulations in one heavy volume called The Code of Canon Law. Curiously, most bishops in the Roman church have degrees in Canon Law but not in Sacred Scripture. So these bishops are often much more knowledgeable about what the Code of Canon Law says than about Jesus says in the Gospels. Because of this, their legalistic views overwhelm their pastoral sensitivity, contributing to the contemporary crisis of church leadership.

Jesus does not favor complications; he favors simplicity. So what does Jesus say? He once was confronted by lawyers who asked him: "Rabbi, which is the greatest law?" Without hesitation Jesus replied, "Love your God with all your heart and soul and strength," but he didn't stop there. He quickly added, "and love your neighbor..." Jesus joins the two because together they constitute a single imperative: love : love of God as recognized and expressed in loving service to ones neighbor who is also God's creation and a reflection of God's goodness. Jesus insists that God's love must have a human face. Love is the law that matters most to God and should matter most to us. In fact, love is the whole law; the rest is commentary!

Not everyone agrees with Jesus' emphasis on the absolute importance of love : not even some who call themselves his disciples, in fact, not even the current pope who once publicly stated the greatest law is to obey authority. You'd think that having grown up in Nazi Germany the pope would have second thoughts about the relative importance of "obeying authority." Apparently not! It's seldom that a rural parish priest gets to contradict a pope, so I'll take this opportunity: No, Benedict, obedience is not the greatest law. Love is. If you study the Gospel of John, and not the Code of Canon Law, you'll discover this. In fact, Love is the whole law; the rest is commentary!

Today's Gospel speaks of Jesus as the vine and of us as the branches. What is the common thread of life between vine and branch? What is the "juice" that constantly carries water and nutrients from the vine to each and every branch? It is love. God is love, writes John in the Gospel. Jesus is love. If love is in us, then God is in us. That love is the life-giving sap that flows through the vine into every attached human branch, from the most mature, wizened and fruit-bearing branch to this most tender shoot, this baby baptized today, this Lucia Anna Grace. She is loved! And we are loved. And love is the whole law; all the rest is commentary.

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