Last week, we buried Margaret Guana in the Springer cemetery, and afterwards we had a big meal for all the family, for over 150 people, most of them from Pueblo, Colorado, and I was talking with Odelia’s mother, a sweet elderly woman and she was telling me her childhood, growing up with her seven brothers and sisters out in the plains, north of Abbot.
And I asked her, “What was it like to grow up out there?”, because you know, it’s the desert plains are a little different from Manhattan, and she said that they grew up raising sheep and they loved it. And I asked her about the weather, and she told me a story.
Once, one day in 1936, while everyone was home, they saw, way out in the distance, a tornado coming across the plains, coming right toward them. And I asked her, “What did you do?” And she said that her parents and all eight children knelt down around the bed and started praying to God. And the tornado came across the desert, straight for their house. It hit the house and the whole house came crashing down!
But the bed was one of those old beds with four poster beam frames and a canopy, so the roof and the house came crashing down around them, except for where they were. The bed had protected them. God had protected them and though the whole house was gone, not one of them was scratched.
I thought that was a great story about prayer, about trusting in God, about loving God and relying on God completely. Jesus says that’s how we are to live, completely centered on God, trusting in God, loving God wholeheartedly, no matter what our circumstances, from day to day life, to those scary moment when a tornado is coming right at you.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious authorities, are trying to arrest Jesus again because they hate him and resent him for speaking the truth. They want to catch him in a mistake so they ask him which commandment is the greatest
As you know, in those days and right up through today, every Jew in childhood has to memorize this verse from the book of Deuteronomy: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one; you shall love God with all you heart and all your soul and all your mind.”
So when Jesus gives this answer to their question about the greatest commandment, he’s saying something that any five year old child would know, which must have baffled them and infuriated them. Then he adds this line from the book of Leviticus–“and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus’ answer sums up the scripture, the commandments, the entire Jewish law, the meaning of life, and the entire Gospel. From now on, Jesus says, we are to love God with all our hearts and all our soul and all our mind and our neighbors as ourselves. This is the number one task before us for the rest of our lives.
What would it mean to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind, and our neighbors as ourselves? The first thing to remember is that God loved us first, that God loves each one of us unconditionally, infinitely, that God created us and imagined us before we were born and is wildly in love with each one of us as the best parent in the world. Try to imagine the one person in your life who loves you more than anyone else in the world–maybe one of your parents or your spouse. Now imagine that God loves you infinitely more, that God knows you even more intimately, that God has always loved you and will always love you with a pure unconditional love!
The second thing to remember is that the best way to understand how we can love God and how God loves us and how to pray is to think in terms of a relationship. Each one of us is invited to have an intimate, loving relationship with God. This is what the spiritual life and prayer are all about. If you are going to love someone with all your heart, soul and mind, you are going to be completely focused on that person. Jesus wants us to take quality time each day with God, to time for silent prayer with God in the morning; to stop periodically throughout the day to be with God, and to take time with God at the end of the day, to say, “Thank you God for this day, for the gift of life, and please protect me and be with me.” Jesus wants us to live our day to day lives in a loving, intimate relationship with God.
Think of the most loving relationship in your life, the person who loves you most, maybe a parent or your spouse. What would happen if every time you saw that person whom you love, that person did all the talking, and always asked you for things, and told you all their problems, but never asked how you were and never listened to you and never let you get a word in edgewise? That is not a healthy relationship. In the end, it is not loving.
This is the same with our relationship with God. We can’t just talk at God, or tell God all our problems, and then walk away from God. Whenever you are truly in love with someone, you are quiet and ask the other person how that person is doing and you want just to be with that person. You want to speak but also to listen to that person. Jesus is inviting us to fall in love with God, to have a healthy, intimate relationship with God. So if we are going to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, we need to ask God how God is, to ask Jesus how he is doing, and not to do all the talking. We need to be quiet and listen to Jesus, to let Jesus talk to us, to learn to enjoy being in the presence of God. That is what you do in a loving, intimate relationship.
Then Jesus goes on to say our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with others. What would it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? First of all, we have to love ourselves, which means we have to be nice to ourselves, to be merciful and nonviolent to ourselves, to forgive ourselves, and to treat ourselves with kindness. Every one of us needs to work on this, to be kind to ourselves
You cannot be a loving person who shows compassion and mercy to others if you first do not show compassion and mercy to yourself.
As we work on that, we are called to love our neighbors, which means Jesus wants us to love everyone in town, everyone of our relatives, every one of our colleagues at work, everyone we meet from now on, which means we have to put aside all our resentments and grudges and anger and hatred and let it all go and forgive anyone who ever hurt us and just say to God, “OK, God, I want to love you and everyone, and I’m not going to hold on to that junk anymore. I’m going to love you and everyone else from now on.”
So I want to thank you for loving God and loving one another and loving yourselves, and encourage you to love everyone for the rest of your lives, to go all the way on the spiritual journey and love even your enemies, as Jesus goes on to say in the Sermon on the Mount, so that you trust God completely, from now on, no matter what happens, whether you are having a boring day or a tornado is coming right at you.