by: Br. Dennis Mercurio [cjm]
1 Thes 1:5c-10
Last Sunday, the Pharisees (who were against the Roman tax)brought with them their adversaries, the Herodians(who were pro-Roman tax),and together they maliciously plotted to trap Jesus by asking him whether it is lawful to pay taxes or not.
Today, we hear the Pharisees were at it again. This time they were on their own, yet still in the same business of leading Jesus into their snare. This they did once more when they heard how Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, although we did not hear of the Sadducees last Sunday.
This means that there was an intervening scene between last Sunday’s gospel reading and today’s. In that section that was skipped over, it was the Sadducees’ turn to try their luck at confirming their unbelief in the resurrection by tricking Jesus with the question on whose wife would a seven-time married woman be in the afterlife.
In their failure to get what they wanted, the Pharisees came forward to advance their wicked end by asking Jesus which of all the commandments is the greatest. Jesus’ reply stunned them all: Love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul… and love your neighbor as you would yourself.
It seems Jesus is not saying anything we do not know yet—of course, this we know already just as the people around him back at the time he said these lines did too. Yet Jesus also knows that there is more than just simply loving one’s neighbor. There is something in this “loving” that we needed more to learn.
Looking closer atthe deeds, or rather misdeeds, of the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, we can easily say that there is nothing wrong at all by simply asking questions per se. What makes the query foul and malicious were the evil intentions of the probers — their darkest desire to trap Jesus, to publicly shame him so that he would lose his dignity as a rabbi before all his listeners who might change their mind at continuing to follow him. In short, they were just jealous of Jesus who was then already gaining more followers than they were.
These same things can plunge loving one’s neighbor into murky water — negative intent and jealousy. Our challenge therefore for this Sunday is to unmask our own intentions at loving: Do I desire to love my neighbor more because I’d at last be the latest go-to guy/gal in the parish neighborhood or because I’ll gain more friends than this Mary Cherry the cheerleader or that Spud the hottest sports guy on campus? Or if I’ll do this more than my husband/wife, then I might make the children take my side when trouble comes again. Or I could outwit this ambitious executive at getting the promotion he was so eager to get by taking to the extreme my love for fulfilling my job. Is this really genuine loving?
Isn’t it funny that the most colorful characters in the Scriptures are the not-so-good guys and yet it doesn't necessary mean we have to follow their lead, right? It is Jesus who always gives us the best example, so why look the other way? When Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself” he said it as plainly as that, no personal strings attached to our questionable motives. Just plain loving — with pure intent, no back story of jealousy — period.
The Good News is that the Author of Love never fails to love us all the same, we be loving others with ill will or not. After all, He was the first to engage us into a loving relationship with Him. This is why the greatest commandment is also our best response to Him in thanksgiving for His unconditional love.
Lord, help us to unmask our intentions to love our neighbor so that we may love genuinely the way you love all of us despite our sometimes malodorous motives. May we see the glory of your goodness in the act of loving and in the faces of ones we love so that with You we may follow your lead in loving others authentically. Amen.