27 February, Monday – Love God, Love People

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

Lev 19:1-2,11-18
Mt 25:31-46

But love your neighbour as yourself

I often hurry into the season of Lent, bent on setting my heart and mind to practice some form of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The priest would be preaching during Ash Wednesday mass and my mind would often be distracted by the myriad of options before me. “Maybe I should fast from Netflix and spend that time in prayer and reflection, but boy, that will be a tough one!” Or “Maybe I should stick to the traditional route of fasting from meals and spending time in the adoration room before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” More often than not, I veer towards spiritual practices and disciplines that I believe are designed to slow me down and refocus my attention on renewing and deepening my relationship with God. Lent, therefore, can often become a time of withdrawal and personal reflection.

While all the various spiritual disciplines are good to reorientate my heart and soul, the Scripture readings today jarred me out of my little spiritual bubble and personal enclave that I can sometimes consciously (or consciously) hedge for myself during this liturgical season.

We are told, quite plainly and unequivocally, that our relationship with, and love for God, cannot be viewed apart from our relationship with, and love for people. It is not just about God and me. It is also about others and me. Lev 19 is a series of laws and commandments. The opening verse sets the foundation of the subsequent commands, “Be holy because I the Lord your God, am holy.” Verses 11-18 then list down social and ethical expectations, with the refrain that occurs after every two verses, “I am the Lord” (v12, 14, 16, 18). Therefore we are commanded not to steal, lie, deceive, exploit, manipulate, show favoritism, apathy or be vengeful towards others because we claim to believe and worship the Lord.

The climax of these series of laws takes place in Lev 19:18b as a positive command, “Love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” The Hebrew word for love is this instance is ’ahabh, which carries an emotional, even romantic connotation. Here, scripture suggests that it is not simply about engaging in dutiful ethical behavior. We must also feel for our neighbour, allow our hearts to be moved by his or her plight, and only then can we truly love people as we love ourselves.

Similarly, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus equates godliness as offering practical acts of love and standing in solidarity with the stranger, the poor, and those considered least in society. It is sobering that those whom Jesus chastised had no trouble acknowledging him as “Lord” (Mt 31:44), yet they had failed to grasp the truth that God’s heart is always with the poor, the disadvantaged and those in need.

And so, as this season of Lent gets under way, and we focus once again on renewing our relationship with God, may we remember that the call to holiness cannot be understood apart from our relationship with others. We are called to love God, and to love others as ourselves. This is the summation and heart of our Christian faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassilda Lim)

Prayer: Help us Lord, to recognise you in others, especially those whom we find difficult to love. Grant us a tender and brave heart so that we will move to act with mercy, justice and compassion.

Thanksgiving: We thank you that you first loved us, so that we might love others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: