Homily for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
As a youngster one of our favorite comic strips was Peanuts. No adults appear in the strip but even as I got older it was still worth reading. One episode that is worth noting is the one where Linus and his big sister Lucy Van Pelt are having a chat. Linus had just told Lucy that he would like to be a doctor when he grows up. “You a doctor! Ha, that's a big laugh,” complains his loud mouthed sister. “You could never be a doctor”, she continues. “You know why? Because you don’t love mankind, that’s why!” Then she starts to skip away from him. In the last frame, Linus yells after her, “ I do love mankind...; its people I can’t stand.”
Paul today asserts. “Whatever other commandments there may be,they are summed up in this saying.... ‘ You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ …. hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” Paul is speaking in a typically Greek fashion, trying to find a single unifying principle behind all the commands of the law. He concludes that there is only one commandment; it is universal and covers every situation..... the commandment of love. He implies that the separate commandments of the law are no more than illustrations of what love may mean in particular situations.
But there are two points we can easily miss when we hear this teaching of Paul. First Paul is talking about love of neighbour. He is not really concerned about people in general, about remote countries of the world or about universal humanity. Rather he is speaking about our neighbour, those with whom we are personally involved, those we meet and relate to every day. Paul’s teaching brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.... in that parable our neighbour is any one who needs us here and now. Secondly, Paul sums it all up by urging’ “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. He does not refer to some poetical or abstract norm for our love.... his teaching is very concrete: “as yourself” or... as being your self. Still this can be misinterpreted. How much we love our selves is not the standard by which Christ is calling us to love others. Rather , we are called to love our neighbour as being of the same nature as we ourselves are, as being created in God’s image and likeness just as we are.
But there is one point about Christian love that is almost never spoken about. It is this.... is Christian love only agape... a Geek word meaning selfless love or is it eros another Greek word meaning desire or passionate love as well? The fact is, the word eros, or love as desire does not appear in the entire New Testament and only appears twice in the Old Testiment... where it is rejected. But if we understand eros as the very human love that includes desire and passion, then we can realistically find lots of eros in the Bible. In fact, God in the Old Testament is a God who loves his people passionately and jealously. And in the New Testament, God is a passionate father who wants his prodigal son back. Also Jesus shows a constant warm friendship for children, for women and especially for the apostles, whom he so lovingly calls his friends.
What I mean is this..... neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament is interested in the separation of “heavenly love” and an “earthly love” Genuine human love of husband and wife, father, mother, child, friend is not appossed to love of God but is set within the context of the love. In the past century, the main emphasis in Christianity was on charity, and perhaps it made little impression on some of us, because charity seemed to have so little humanity. It seemed often dehumanized and spiritualized, with no vitality, emotion, affection or warmth and so was unattractive. Recently we use the word love rather than charity to indicate that our Christian love should be truly human.... with depth, warmth, intamacy, tenderness, humbleness, passion, and desire.
What all this means is that we cannot say with Linus, “I love mankind; it’s the people I can’t stand.” But we have to listen to Paul.... “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Most of all, we try to love as Jesus loved, accepting all those near to us with a warm, practical, passionate human love.