You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The Pharisee who asks the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” is asking for one answer. He wants to know the one commandment that is the greatest. Does anyone else find it odd, that Jesus gives the Pharisee two commandments!?
We are supposed to be surprised that Jesus has given two commandments… But I think Jesus wants us to see that he is really giving the Pharisee the answer that he is looking for. In other words, to love God, necessarily means that one loves their neighbor as well.
One scripture commentator calls this the Triangulation of Love. Now, what does that mean? In theology, in our study of God’s love for the world, there is the old adage that says: love is diffusive of itself. Meaning, love is so powerful that it cannot be contained, it overflows. So, this scripture scholar argues that this is seen in the Holy Trinity and in the Human family. The Father who loves the Son, and the Son who loves the Father and that loving exchange between the Father and the Son is so powerful that it overflows into another person, that is, the Holy Spirit. And, The love between Husband and Wife is so fruitful that it creates a third person.
The question for us is: “who is that third person of love that overflows from the relationship between the believer and God?” The answer is, I love God and God loves me, and that love experienced between God and me moves me to love my neighbor. “The love of God, if it is active with me in both senses (that is, as. The love first flowing from God toward me and as eliciting a reciprocal love from me toward God), will necessarily bear fruit in my love for my neighbor as defined by Jesus.”
“No one can love himself or [his neighbor] fruitfully unless he first loves God absolutely”. Our lives have to be grounded in the love of God before we can love totally those around us. For me, one of the best examples of this comes from the movie Les Miserables. There is a man, Jean Valjean, that has become deeply angry towards the world and for his situation. Out of his desperation, he steals precious silver from a Bishop. And he gets caught. When the guards bring Jean Valjean to the Bishop, they inform the Bishop that they have caught this man red-handed. The Bishop looks at the guards and says: “this man has spoken true, I gave him this precious silver”. Then turning towards Jean Valjean he says: “Now remember this, my brother, see in this some higher plan, You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by their passion and their blood, God has raised you out of darkness, I have saved your soul for God.”
It’s in this moment, that Jean Valjean’s life changes. He has been loved so intimately by the Bishop that he truly encounters Christ through the Bishop’s loving witness. The rest of the movie then, Jean Valjean devotes his life to God and to serving the poor. Throughout the movie, there will be many scenes where Jean Valjean is seen praying. Soon after his encounter with the bishop, he meets a young woman, Fantine, who is near death. Ironically, she is on the streets because she was wrongfully fired from Jean Valjean’s factory and found herself working the streets in order to make money for her daughter. Eventually. this woman passes away, but Jean Valjean devotes the rest of his life to raising her daughter. It’s not until the end of the movie where we realize the depth of Jean Valjean’s conversion.
He is now close to death, and Fantine, “returns” to Jean Valjean to bring him up to heaven. It’s a beautiful scene because, in that moment, there is the Bishop and Fantine welcoming Jean Valjean into heaven. And they all sing together, “and remember, the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God”. The bishop is there because the Bishop loved God through Jean Valjean. Fantine is there because Jean Valjean’s love for the Lord was expressed in his loving service to Fantine and her daughter.
My friends, we can only love as God loves if we let ourselves encounter God’s love in our lives and be willing to share that love with others. May the Eucharist we receive today, strengthen us to love God through our love of neighbor.