It’s no secret that we’re living in tense and fractious time, and this past Thursday night was a stark example of that. Neither side seemed to land any convincing blows; the rules were often flouted; feelings were hurt. The flurries of texts amongst friends lamented the seeming uselessness of it all. I am, of course, talking about the Giants-Eagles game, though, by all accounts, the same thing could be said about the other great contest that night.
We’re living in interesting times, in the Chinese curse sense of the term, and the tension and stress can be exhausting. Studies have shown that when a population is under long-term and multi-faceted stress, bad things happen: bonds of friendship are broken, and violence increases even within societal and ethnic groups.
So imagine for a second being a first Century Jew. Oppression was just there, and the Romans weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. On top of the Romans, you would have the Pharisees to contend with, along with the tax collectors, the tolls on your own roads, all of which had to be paid for with coinage bearing the image of a false god. If you got too far out of line, the authorities, both civil and religious, had ways of dealing with you.
Those were truly interesting times, and there’s nothing that fits into interesting times like keeping the status quo. Into that world came Jesus, who wasn’t very good at that.
Case in point: today’s Gospel lesson. We’re told that Jesus had already ‘silenced’ the Sadducees – remember that He bested them in last week’s Gospel about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and so the Pharisees take their shot. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
This, by the way, was not a difficult question. A Jewish preschooler could have answered it with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
But then Jesus essentially upends the system. “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We get these two phrases, these two laws drilled into us at every normal Mass, of course – The Summary of the Law – and so we’re used to hearing them, maybe a little too used to hearing them. But no one until that random day two thousand years ago when Jesus was challenged by that lawyer, no one had heard these to laws put together, made Law1 and Law1a. On these two, Jesus proclaimed, hangs all of the Law and everything the prophets every said.
Now imagine again that you’re a first Century Jew under Roman rule, when it was hard enough to just live, to get by day by day, on top of knowing that things will likely never get better. Would you be in a rush to love your neighbor who plays his music too loud or your aunt who insults your cooking? How about that jerk you went to high school with who rats on you to the Roman centurian?
Fast forward to now. The world’s a mess, anxiety is high, and you can’t even go to Old Town Pub without fear of literally dying. Any disagreement is now a major disagreement. And trust me, I get it: the graces of ordination do not include endless patience or an imperviousness to annoyance. So am I in a rush to love everyone God puts in front of me? I don’t want to answer that, except to say that I better be, even when it’s not so easy.
Law1 and Law 1a. One feeds the other. When we love God, He gives us the grace to love our neighbor; when we love our neighbor, we are, in a very real way, loving God. To do both is the only way through these interesting times.