Posted October 24, 2020
Yr A Ordinary Time, 30th Sunday
Today’s Gospel Reading (Matthew 22: 34-40) speaks of loving God and loving your neighbour. The two are intimately related. Your love for God must be enfleshed in your love for your neighbour, otherwise your love for God remains formless and can even be delusory. It is not unknown for religious people to claim they love God with all their hearts, while in fact hating their neighbour with all their souls. The reality is that it is only your love for your neighbour that shows that your love for God is authentic. As St John puts it: If you don’t love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?
The trouble is that neighbour-love itself needs a mark by which it can be recognized as authentic. It’s not just that the word ‘love’ has been hijacked by the world and used to express a whole range of emotions, from the most wonderful to the most vacuous. The fact is rather that even when the word is intended in a noble sense it can still be somewhat vague, and can still be open to self-deception.
Perhaps just as the love of God needs to be articulated in the love of neighbour, which marks it as authentic, so love of neighbour itself needs to be defined by the virtues that must always accompany it and which alone show it to be authentic, namely: justice, respect, courtesy, sincerity, transparency, gentleness, compassion and humility. There can be no genuine love of neighbour that is not accompanied by these qualities.
Now I want to suggest that all these necessary concomitants of genuine neighbour-love are so many aspects of one basic virtue, namely, love of truth. ‘Love rejoices in the truth’, St Paul says, in his hymn to love in 1 Corinthians. And in a striking phrase in Ephesians, members of the community are urged to ‘do the truth in love’.
Doing the truth in love means first of all acknowledging the truth about the person you encounter, and the truth about yourself. The truth about the person you encounter is that he or she is a child of God, bearing in their soul a reflection of the infinite: one for whom Christ died. And the truth about yourself is that you are a child of God, bearing in your soul a reflection of the infinite: one for whom Christ died. You are not inferior to that person, nor they to you. You are both created in the image and likeness of God, and called to share God’s friendship. You both reflect God’s dignity. Doing the truth in love means treating each other with reverence, as fellow servants of the truth; without a hint of falsehood or pretence; without seeking to impress, but with perfect candour and modesty.
A particular application of doing the truth in love is honouring other people’s good name. Your good name is part of the truth about you – one of your prized possessions. But I can disfigure your good name with a single word, with a mere gesture. And what a serious matter that would be – more serious, even, than disfiguring you physically.
Of course, doing the truth in love gets difficult when the other person does not share your love of truth. He or she is accessible only to those who share their falsehood, or who support them because they are a member of their clique or are otherwise influential or popular. We should not give such people the benefit of even our feigned support, or even of our neutrality. Where necessary, we should speak out against the falsehood they represent. Doing the truth in love means taking responsibility for the truth; and that can cost you dearly.
Similarly, doing the truth in love may involve protesting against institutional injustice, even, if need be, whistleblowing on instances of abuse and neglect when your church or your firm or your hospital trust is desperate to cover them up for reputational purposes, or to protect their own. Doing the truth in love can cost you your job.
Then – finally – doing the truth in love means being ready to apologize, to offer recompense and remedy when you have been unjust to others. It is never too late to do the truth.
Only when you love your neighbour in this way is your love for God anything other than self-delusion. As St John says: ‘No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’
Fr Tom Deidun