The smallest words in the English language are often the most significant, such as YES and NO, or IF and BUT. Jesus teaches us to say YES when we mean YES and NO when we mean NO. All else is window dressing.
Here in the Gospel today Jesus re-iterates the Jewish teaching regarding the greatest commandment of all – when we get down to brass tacks, the bottom line, when we cut to the chase.... What is the bottom line? What is the last word? We want brevity and clarity and simplicity, for guidance and direction. Short is sweet. The moral precept of the Law fulfilled in Jesus is simple, direct but with many implications.
To love God with all your strength, heart and mind
To love your neighbour as yourself
Those are the ‘simultaneous equations’ as it were.
The two smallest yet vital words that apply to our relationship with God and neighbour have to do with the measure of love or respect due to them.
In relation to God the word is ALL – our strength, our mind, our heart, our will
In relationships with others the simple yet profound word is AS – to love our neighbour as ourselves, or in other words, the Golden Rule – treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.
Like all legislation, the devil is in the detail - it is all very well we might say to boil it down to one thing, when ‘all is said and done’, in the here and now, or ‘at the end of the day’ – the words we find hard to swallow are ALL and AS. It is a mission statement, a plan for life, the blueprint, the writing on the wall.
Of course many of us live lives that fall short of ALL or AS. Instead of ALL in relation to God, we use the phrase – unconsciously – ‘some’ – some of our heart, strength, will or mind (and some of the time). That is the way to Purgatory. But the worst choice of all is for someone to consciously and deliberately employ the word NONE in relation to God and it is the way to hell.
As we commemorate our dead – ‘those gone before us with the sign of faith’ in the Month of November, we begin the month with the Feast of ALL SAINTS – those for whom ALL in relation to their love for God became the only option, and the best and only way, by the grace of God, open to them. As we remember to pray for the Holy Souls too we realise that the word SOME applied to them. Theirs, often like ours, was a love that was partial and incomplete - a love that was somehow lacking in perfection.
As for love of our neighbours as ourselves, instead of saying AS we may imperfectly love and unconsciously employ the term ‘AS IF’! Our love for them – and maybe their love for us - is not yet ‘truly heroic’; it is often sporadic, disjointed, and inconsistent, full of good intentions but not persevering, inconstant – in thought, judgment, word, action and omission.
Why is this a problem for us? Because ‘AS’ challenges us to love others as much as we love ourselves. But we end up loving ourselves more. As Scott Hahn put it: ‘I may not be much but I’m all I think about!’ we are called to put others’ concerns on at least an equal par to our own. Our three loves are God, others, self –or as I have said elsewhere : Jesus, Others, You –which equals JOY.
But we struggle to get that right.
Jesus is the prime example of love because GOD IS LOVE.
No greater love has man that He lay down his life for his friends.
ALL and AS are, as it were, etched into both sides of the coin of love as God intended us to live it– the coin we cannot keep to ourselves. Let these words be written on our hearts
Jesus wants us to love, and love is at once free and yet costs us a great deal, because true love involves commitment, and to commit oneself to love is to sacrifice oneself and most of all implies that we need to forgive and move on – so love costs. It is therefore a case of ALL or nothing.
Love – heaven – the place of true and everlasting love – costs nothing less than everything. It is where the saints want us to follow, it is where the Holy Souls are destined to go in all certainty. The way of love begins now, today. Let us begin again. Heaven cannot wait.