“Are you sure you have all you need for the journey?” asked Charles from his son, Thomas. “Yes, all is in there,” the young man replied showing his bag. “Any messages?” “No”, said the father, “only one thing.” Charles took out a $50. note and, tearing it into two, gave one half to Thomas and said: “Here, take this, I’ll keep the other half. When you come back I’ll give you this one too and you can have a celebration with your friends.” Charles smiled. Both of them knew that each part was really of no value without the other half. Separate, they were no good. Each portion needed the other to be of any real value.
Last Sunday, we were told to give to God what belongs to God. This Sunday, that message is put side by side with what we are to give to our neighbour. In the gospel, Jesus is asked a definite question: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” His answer comes clearly and without delay: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself.” No one can separate one from the other, they are like parts of the same note, faces of the same coin. They stand together or not at all. To speak of one means to include the other as well.
From the beginning, God made it clear that if we are to love him, we must also love the people he has made. And the poorer and more helpless a person is, the more serious this commandment becomes. In the 1st reading, the Lord said to Moses: “Tell the sons of Israel this, ‘You must not molest the stranger, you must no be harsh with the widow, or with the orphan; if you are harsh with them, they will surely cry out to me, and be sure I shall hear their cry’.” Many years later, Jesus makes this message even clearer when he says: “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt.25:40).
“You did it to me.” Simple words, impossible to put on them any other meaning than the one Jesus himself had in mind. Do we really accept what they say? If we did, we would realise that the blind man, the old person, the cripple, the mad man walking in the middle of the road – each of them is Jesus in our midst. The lonely old woman in the corner of a hospital room forgotten by her family, the prisoner near to despair, the refugee despised or ignored by many – these too are Jesus among us. We cannot love God and leave all these people out of our concern, much as we may try to do at times.
There are people who think that religion is all about loving and worshipping God. For them, the Mass, the sacraments, the rosary, the novenas are very important. But if you look at them among people, you will sometimes notice much selfishness and indifference to those in need. Such people live only half the gospel and half the gospel has little value, like half the $50.00 note! It is said that Mother Theresa one day lifted a child from a gutter and whispered: “I am lifting Jesus out of the gutter.” She had understood the meaning of today’s gospel. Have we understood it?