This love-your-enemies business is not easy at all. Especially in the last weeks of a political campaign, even in this midterm year. It's so easy to get caught up in the spin, the mud, the lies, the name-calling, and somehow feel that we're all doing what we're doing in the name of justice and righteousness. But it's not. It has nothing to do with God, and the best of the candidates aren't really good, just opportunistic compromisers. Even when I manage to hold my tongue, I'm still taking sides, wondering how certain candidates can be such a**holes, why the good guys aren't better, or why they do such terrible things and think of them as good. And on top of all that, why the church isn't more proactive with love and acceptance and intervention on behalf of the sick and poor, especially when we are the proprietors of universities and hospitals with the personnel and means to act decisively. Church doctors. Church lawyers. Church bankers. Church senators, judges, and congresspeople. And nothing but contention. I find myself in the ironic, you might say parabolic, position of complaining about the church and, yes, being the church. I have what I can only describe as self-righteous indignation to blame. I am a big fat pot calling the kettle black. Which brings us to our readings and the liturgy being prepared for this Sunday.
In another confrontation with the Jewish leadership, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. The Pharisee and scholar who asks him is a member of the populist sect of community leaders that grew out of the separatist (hence their name, from the Hebrew "set apart") movements reacting to Hellenistic rule of the Hasmoneans and later of the Romans. They interpreted the law generously, unlike the Sadduccees, though they insisted that obedience to the Torah was necessary for every Jew. So Jesus tells him, straight out of the Torah: love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. That’s from Deuteronomy. And Jesus goes on: the second commandment is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. That’s Leviticus. On these two, Jesus tell him, hangs the entire law, and the prophets as well. The implication being, as you and I both know!
This is one of those passages that makes you go, Just what is the word of the Lord? Different manuscripts and the Dead Sea Scrolls have varying words in the list of ways to love God; “mind,” for instance, is not in every manuscript, so one scholar asks, How did it get in there? The word translated as “strength” in many versions also means “money” or “wealth” or “much-ness.” How much easier would the kind of love meant in the Torah be to preach on if it said, “Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and money, and love your neighbor as yourself”? No escape from that one, it seems to me. But as long as we can keep the discussion in the realm of the spiritual and non-specific (“strength”) rather than the concrete (“money”), we can hedge our bets, and fatten our insurance policies.
Love is hard. I think about this every time I attend a wedding and hear 1 Corinthians 13, and think to myself, “God is love,” and that I ought to be too. For years I've thought that would be good song fodder, to use “God is love” and some exhortation to be like God in the refrain, and use 1 Cor 13 in the verses. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love doesn’t rejoice over misfortune,” etc. etc. I finally got around to trying that a couple of years ago, and it appeared in a compilation collection at GIA in 2012, and will be in our new collection one of these days, if we ever finish recording it. Ultimately, love is about actually believing, and acting on the belief, that the other person’s good is equally important to your own (love as yourself), and therefore putting aside self-preservation instincts in favor of other-preservation, life-giving. It’s not about being right, or surviving to fight another day, or anything like that. It’s just about life-giving.
As though to drive this point home, the first reading, also from the Pentateuch in case there are any Pharisees (that means us) still listening in our assembly, is the reminder to Israel (and that means us) that we’re not to mistreat people outside of our clan, family, or in-group in a way different from the way we would want to be treated. And why? “Because you were once aliens yourselves.” The key is to remember who we are, where we’ve come from. Love is not a feeling, it’s not a philosophy, it’s not a theology. It’s a way of acting, and it’s a way of acting toward those who cannot or will not return the favor. Love is God, and that’s the way we’re supposed to act. It’s the fullness of life, what we’re called to be, it makes us as good as we can be as beings, because it is the way God is. That’s what Jesus came to show us. He did it leading a fairly quiet life in a little corner of the world as a person born outside of the dominant culture. The image of the invisible God never had an army, lifted a weapon, made a threat, or coerced another soul. Why not? Because he was like God. God is love. Love is an action. His entire ministry was letting us know just how good we could have it if we’d just stop believing in empire. Turn around. Believe the gospel. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and ate with the untouchables to show us that no one is outside of God’s love, and that therefore no one should be outside of ours.
For me, that means remembering that God loves John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Cardinal Burke, Bill O'Reilly, and even Dr. Laura as much as S/He loves me. I need to pray for their conversion, even as I pray for mine.
Music for this weekend:
Gathering: Come to Us, (Cooney, NALR, 1985) or I Have Loved You (Joncas, New Dawn, 1979). Playing both sides of the gospel street here, or imagining, maybe, that as we get to be more like to God "to be" and "to do" converge, these two songs aim to open our ears to the presence of the God whom we celebrate and the word we are about to hear. "Come to Us" takes the active approach, putting the singing assembly in persona Christi, announcing its intention to be Christ for others in compassion and service. "I Have Loved You" expresses the "everlasting love" of God for people, and sharpens our hearing for the gospel. Both songs, even in their entireties, are short; this week, we celebrate the combined rite of acceptance and welcome at the parish.
Psalm 18: I Love You (Cooney, unpublished). I wrote this lyric setting of Psalm 18 a couple of years ago. The music tries to express the elation of gratitude for healing and rescue, as expressed in the psalm. I'm still looking for "beta testers" to try it out and give me some feedback - follow the link to check out the score.
Preparation Rite: Gathered and Sent (Cooney, GIA - unpublished), Rain Down (Jaime Cortez, OCP) "Rain down your love on your people" follows the more important arc of the gospel today, that is, the love of the God that enables our response in love, that invites us to imitate its selflessness and compassion rather than indulging our acquisitive greed. "Gathered and Sent" was commissioned by Old St. Patrick's church about three years ago, and we're including it in our new collection of songs that may be available by the end of the decade. No worries, though—there are plenty of other songs out there in the meantime!
Communion: May We Be One (music by Gary Daigle, text by Rory Cooney, GIA, 1994) More information at the link, from the page I wrote on the album, Praise the Maker's Love.
Recessional: Lover of Us All, by Dan Schutte (OCP octavo) Even though it wasn't included in the current version of Gather Comprehensive like it was in the original, it's hard to let go of Dan's joyful and solid anthem. "We come to give you thanks, O lover of us all, and giver of our loving." That line from the refrain pretty much sums up the stance of the church today and the truth embodied in the scriptures we hear this morning. St. Anne's sings this one well, and it's worth the effort to make a worship aid so that we can sing it out again.