It kind of sounds like Jesus doesn’t answer the question, doesn’t it? The pharisees ask him, “Teacher what is the greatest commandment?” And instead of answering with one commandment, Jesus gives two answers. To love God is the greatest commandment and the second is like it; to love one’s neighbor as yourself.
What does love look like? It is a word we use for many things. We “love” our favorite celebrities, movies, bands, television shows. And many of say we love food or coffee. Love is kind of like the word good today. So often we say that we have had a good day, or that our experience somewhere was a good one. We almost need to use a different word to express if something was truly good, to emphasize how “awesome” of a day it was. It’s not wrong for us to say that we love coffee. But when I say I love coffee, its because of the warmth, the taste is good, and it gives me a boost of energy. My love for coffee is about what coffee does for me… But this is not the type of love Jesus is talking about.
The love that exists between God and us is reciprocal. But God’s love for us gives us an idea of what true love looks like. Its generous. God’s generosity is why we exist. He didn’t have to create us or the world, but he did. God’s love is generous. God’s love is outward. It is not self-centered. God is not satisfied with the distance between us and him, so he sends his only son Jesus to our world, to convince us of God’s love. Christ convinces us of God’s love by showing us that true love sacrifices for others. That is the cross. And finally, authentic love is transformative. It creates something new. Jesus how makes all things new transformative love gives new life. Christ transforms his death into the resurrection. Christ transforms us with his grace to newness of life.
The signs of God’s transformative love are scattered through out the Gospels. Jesus motivated by love and God’s compassion (If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate), heals the blind and heals the paralytics. But he doesn’t just transform sickness into health, he transforms hearts. Peter is a great example. When Peter first meets Christ, Jesus has just helped him catch a boat-load of fish. Peter’s response to Jesus is, depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man! And yet we know peter becomes this great saint. The sinner has been transformed.
The beauty is that God invites us to participate in the transforming art of Love. This is why Jesus gives the pharisees a two for one answer. Jesus first is emphasizing that “No one can love himself or [his neighbor] fruitfully unless he first loves God absolutely”! Second Jesus is inviting us into his mission. When we love others, when we love what God loves, we become an instrument of God’s transforming love for others.
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.”
The Bishop’s compassion and love for Jean Valjean has transformed him. 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 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.
Friends we can love God more intimately, the one whom we can’t see, if we love our neighbor, the one whom we can (see 1 John 4:20–22). May the Eucharist we receive today, strengthen us to participate in God’s transformative love.
In Christ’s love and friendship,