There was a congregation struggling mightily to build a new church building since the old one was falling apart and beyond repair. Almost all the congregation's members had stepped forward with generous pledges; but there remained one holdout : the town banker : who hadn't pledged a single penny. So the pastor reluctantly decided to make a personal call at the banker's home to plead his case. When he arrived and spoke his piece, the banker listened politely but then replied, "You must think I'm a cheapskate, reverend, but I'm under terrible financial pressure. My son is attending an Ivy League college at a cost of $35,000 a year. My mother is bedridden in a rest home costing $60,000 a year. My daughter's husband abandoned her and the kids, and she needs $40,000 a year to stay afloat. Now you've gotta understand, Reverend, when I said 'no' to them, how can I say 'yes' to you?"
In today's Gospel, Jesus is asked to consider the hundreds of commandments written in the Jewish Scriptures and come up with the most important one. Jesus does just that, quickly answering: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." But Jesus doesn't stop there. He immediately adds, "and love your neighbor as you love yourself." It's as if the two commands are inseparable, and they are! It is because we love God that we must love each other since we are all created in the image of this same God Who is Love.
But our loving God and loving each other occurs because God first loves us. Love is God's initiative towards us! We can't begin to imagine the immensity of God's love for us. We take so much for granted, and slumber our way through our time on earth. Yet people who have near-death experiences, who were declared clinically dead but then miraculously come back to life, claim that in that moment of "near death," they experience God's love, God's peace, God's joy so overwhelmingly that they don't want to come back to us! Paul can't even put God's love for us into words; he states that never has it entered into our minds and hearts what wonderful things God has prepared for us. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins compares God to a bloodhound in his poem The Hound of Heaven. As the hound never gives up the chase, neither will God, who is constantly on our trail, following us through every nook and cranny of our lives, never giving up on us, willing us home.
When Jesus invites us to love wholeheartedly in today's Gospel, he's not expecting the impossible. He knows we can! First, he has given us the best possible example of wholehearted loving by his own life and death. Secondly, his Spirit, the Spirit of Love, lives in us to trigger wholehearted responses of love in our lives. Thirdly, we only have to handle one loving moment, one loving decision, one opportunity to love at a time. That is not at all an impossible burden! As Jesus shows us, loving God and loving each other is our calling, our special blessing. It's who we are! Love is our origin, it's where we come from. Love is our nature, it's why we're here. Love is our destiny, it's where we are going. And love is the only thing we can take with us when we die : the only thing!
So this very day, may we begin to love ever more as Jesus loves, as God loves : with all our heart and soul and mind and strength!