Last night after we finished Mass and holy hour here, I had to drive down to the local CVS and I was telling our missionaries how unnerving it was to drive down the street and see everything closed like it was Christmas night. Surreal to just see life stop that a week ago would have been unthinkable. The news – which I highly suggest you don’t watch more than 15-20 min a day because that will really fuel your anxiety – is full of stories talking about this crisis and sharing every possible theory of treatment, or how to avoid the virus:
– this medicine is promising
– if you have that blood type you’re less likely to contract this
– the warmer weather and humidity will curb the spread of it…
Of course, I’m praying that any or all of those things prove to be true. But what’s probably fueling our collective anxiety is all this uncertainty. We just take a look around and feel in unchartered territory. We want to know who to listen to… what direction we need to follow to get back to whatever it was we considered our “normal.” Which is why this Gospel passage is timely.
The scribes coming to Jesus asking “what is the first of all the commandments” was more than “so what is your favorite of the 10 commandments.” It was a question, asking of the entirety of the scriptures, with the hundreds of laws that had been given and had evolved over time where did Jesus land on what was the most important? It basically was trying to pin Jesus down in terms of what camps, groups, politics was Jesus aligned with. Which is sadly probably more familiar to us then we care to admit.
No they weren’t dealing with a quarantine – but as Jews they were feeling isolated, anxious, uncertain as well. Having been occupied by the Romans (which was a nicer way of saying enslaved) – so there greatest of victories, the freedom from Egypt was now a distant memory… and seeing widespread corruption in both there public and religious officials – for the people nothing made sense. How did they get into this situation with so much division where everything was a mess- and even more importantly how (or could they) ever get out of it? How Jesus answered this question would help them to determine how he aligned with their values – and whether they felt comfortable with following Him.
Jesus’ answer seems to kind of level the listeners in it’s simplicity. We hear “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… and your neighbor as yourself.” It seems obvious. But you can almost sense the freshness and newness in it – as the scribe repeats it back to Jesus. It’s like the scribe has an “A HA moment” or more like “Yeah duh…” This is what its all about… This is what is most important. Loving God and each other.
The Jews had forgotten that… They didn’t realize or see how in their divisions, in their arguments, in their arrogance and inter fighting that God had been displaced as being the center of their lives – and taking care of their neighbors – taking care of each other -that was a distant after thought. Particularly when so many of them couldn’t stand each other.
Jesus in this answer is in a sense getting “back to basics.” In the end the thing that matters the most is God the Father – and recognizing our identity comes from Him. As beloved sons and daughters – that makes us brothers and sisters, and Dad expected them (and us) to treat each other better.
The beautiful revelation that emerges from this is that Jesus reminds us of how God treats us, looks at us… He would never ask us to do something He hasn’t already done. So the good news for us to sit with and reflect on is flipping the commandment around. Jesus is saying to everyone of his listeners – “Hear this… God loves you – each and everyone of you, personally, individually with all His Heart… with all His Soul… with all His mind and all His strength.” That needs to take root deep within…
We can acknowledge all the different things that are making us anxious and uncertain in our world right now, but we shouldn’t stay there – obsessing and worrying about them to the point that we forget what should be the first commandment, the first priority of every age and generation. Jesus’ revelation of our eternal identity should inspire confidence and trust that surpasses this – or any crisis of any time – that we should face. God is with us – He loves us… Will we reciprocate that love?