Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
Jesus responds to yet another provocation with an appeal to the heart of Torah love of God (Deuteronomy 6) and neighbour (Leviticus 19). Religious passion and compassion. God be with you ...
We might have our own words for these two commandments, this double movement of worship and neighbourly regard ... Piety and politics, spirituality and community service, devotion and friendship or intimacy. On one level it’s quite simple, on another as shown by Jesus confounding the Pharisees on the lineage of the Messiah it’s about as radical as things get. The heart of Torah, the prophets too the living tradition is doubly wonderful: love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
As we noted last week, the answer Jesus embodies, the answer he lives, is a good model for anyone who would struggle to understand the text. For us. What do religious passion and compassion look like in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? What do worship and neighbourly regard look like? We might refer to a creative tension in terms of tears and prayers, angry words and healing encounters. But the two commandments/claims don’t pull apart. That’s a reason we profess that full divinity and full humanity, passion and compassion, are revealed in this one life.
As we make the double movement our own, in the Spirit of Jesus, are we too not made one, do we not find ourselves more insightful and more integrated people, less inclined to self-
Still, even disciples of Jesus can find love confounding.
Psychologists suggest that many of us are afraid of love, or afraid to love, or afraid of being loved. There’s even a word for it: philophobia. We may recognise love when we see it in the altruism of New York doctor Craig Spencer recently returned from West Africa and diagnosed with Ebola, in the courage of Bill Shorten declaring his support for same-
These fears are real and deserve close and careful attention. The good news, however, is that it is possible to learn from our own histories and “critical inner voices”. It is possible to challenge our defences and to feel our feelings. It is possible to become more open and vulnerable and so to celebrate the fullness of life.
It’s possible to move beyond fears, beyond idolatries and projections towards greater freedom in love. There’s always more to a text. There’s always more to understand. There’s always another way to look and see, to hear and grow. There’s always another space to move about and think and feel. That’s what grace means it’s also what it means to be human and to be alive with others in a world of God’s making.
“Those who have made most progress will continually press on, never believing themselves to have reached their end,” says Francis de Sales (1567-
Inside this Gospel text, then, let us imagine ... listen and look, think and feel, resist and debate among blessed others ... let us meditate with blessed others.
The German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-
French abbot and reformer Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-
Archbishop and poet Francois Fenelon speaks of touching the holy: Love God and you will be humble; love God and you will love all that God gives you to love for love of God.
“But how am I to love God with all my heart and my neighbour as myself?” persists a young Francis de Sales in conversation with the Bishop of Geneva. “Heartily!” answers the Bishop again and again until pressed to answer seriously: “The only way to attain that love is by loving.”
And loving God not as you might love your cow as a giver of milk and cheese for whatever you can “get” from God. Rather, love is love’s own reward rendering happiness. Love transforms you, equipping you with the very love you need to touch the holy.
According to Donald Spoto’s biography on Francis of Assisi, when Francis returned to Umbria he not only resumed his restoration of San Damiano’s but also began to nurse lepers ... This involved not only begging food on their behalf and feeding them, but carrying them to a nearby brook or stream to wash their sores. “For God’s sake, he served all of them with great love. His care, in other words, meant more than merely not showing revulsion. It meant a willingness to be with them precisely because they were outcast. It meant taking with grave literalness the standard of the Gospel that to minister to the needy was to minister to the lonely, naked and dying Christ.
In nursing the world’s outcasts, Francis had begun to rise to the genuine nobility he had long sought, which was to be discovered not in armour, or in titles or battles, glory or contests. Honour would be found not in associating with the strongest, the most attractive, the best dressed or the most secure people in society, but with the weakest, the most disfigured, those who were marginalised, dependent and despised.
What confounds or frightens you in the commandments to love? What moves you towards greater freedom and fuller life with others? ... Amen.