31st Sunday of the Year 2018
I was struck by the number of times the word ‘listen’ was used in today’s readings. When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment he begins by saying: “This is the first, listen Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord etc.,” His reply would have made just as much sense if he had left out the listen and just said: “The Lord our God is one Lord”. So I presume the word ‘listen’ was important. You see the same in the first reading, only this time its Moses speaking. He says “Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosper”. And later on Moses repeats the same word, when he says the same words as Christ: “Listen Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..” And again the sentence, in fact both the sentences would have made sense with the word ‘listen’. So it would seem for both Jesus and Moses listening is important.
Listening is surely very important, even today. It was the message that Jesus and Moses wanted to teach, that was so important, that they asked the people are you listening. Teachers at my school, when teaching us something important, would ask: “are you listening McGowan”; we used surnames when I was at school. I obviously gave he impression that I wasn’t listening at times. And the teacher would say, “it goes in one ear and out the other”, or if he was unkind, he would add, “in one ear, through the vacuum and out the other”. I suppose what the teacher was trying to teach me was that if you really want to learn then you must listen.
Maybe the people with Jesus were a bit like me. You can almost hear Jesus shouting the words “Are you listening to me”. “Listen, you must love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself”. Yes, we can hear these words but the trouble is we hear them so often that, sometimes, we don’t hear them; our minds are thinking of something else. However, if we can listen then Jesus will be happy. He surely wants us to take his words seriously and I suggest in particular the second part of that sentence: “you must love your neighbour as yourself”.
I say that because it is the easiest way to judge if we love God. How else will you know? You could argue: well, I go to Church and I say my prayers. Isn’t that proof enough? Yes, it can be, but not necessarily. Jesus, in a way, makes it easy for us to know if we love God, because he equates loving God with our neighbour. Our ‘neighbour’ in this sense is not the person next door, but rather the person we live with or the person we work with or someone we meet in the street, on the bus or train. Do we love them? I suspect most of us would say yes we do love our families and our friends. But what about people you don’t like? What, God forbid, people that you hate? Our neighbour isn’t always someone you like. Yet to love God properly you are asked to love those you do not find it easy to like never mind love. And how often those people be family members? I know of very few families where everyone always gets on with everyone. Rather I know too many families where there are splits and divisions: siblings have fallen out and no longer talk to each other; or parents fall out with their children or even with each other, and where as once there was love, now there is the opposite; bitterness and resentment.
If you really love God, as you are asked to do, then you must love your neighbour; even those you find it hard now to love. The person who doesn’t love their neighbour doesn’t love God; it’s as simple as that. But don’t give up; don’t despair. Just keep trying to overcome bad feelings; keep praying for God’s help, and it will not be lacking. Because there are some divisions that are so deep and painful that only God can heal them. But heal them He will. Are you listening?