All the great faiths of the world have a core code that expresses all the rest of its teachings. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one God and you shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” This prayer is known as the Shema and is the daily prayer of all devout Jews. In Hebraic thought, heart, soul, and strength do not mean separate human faculties but the person in the totality of his/her being. God demands radical and total obedience from the Israelites he delivered from the slavery of Egypt.
In today’s gospel Jesus quotes these words in answer to the Scribes question ‘which commandment is first of all’? Then he adds a quote from the book of Leviticus “‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” In other words you can’t have one without the other. As St.John teaches ‘if anyone says he loves God and does not love his neighbour – he is a liar.’
Today’s scripture readings should make us all uncomfortable – we all know we fall short of the mark when it comes to loving God with heart soul and all the strength we can muster. We’ve got a lot of things on our minds; we have to hold down a job, raise a family and get kids through university. Our parents are aging and we have to keep an eye on them. We’ve got our own health issues. We have so many things on our minds we’ve little time to think about God.
Loving neighbours is another issue. That annoying person at work; that person who shouldn’t have a driver’s licence; that busy body down the street; all those people who look for social assistance because they’re too lazy to work; all these new people coming to Canada and taking our jobs; all those weirdos and crackpots we run into looking for loose change; and how are we supposed to love those crazy car bombers and terrorists killing all those innocent people? We are all good people struggling with these issues. We might say, ‘I have enough trouble getting along with my own family and now I’m expect to love the world?’
Every major religion has at least one succinct tenet that challenges us in the way we relate to other people. Experience shows the majority of us don’t follow that tenet very faithfully. We’ve heard time and time again that religion has caused more wars and more harm than anything else. We can think back on the Crusades, the Inquisition, the wars of religion, the troubles in Ireland and today we witness car bombings and acts of terror among religious groups in the Middle East. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist religious fanatics all call for the extermination of anyone who does not share their world view and faith. The ordinary good people of all these faiths are tarred with the same brush as these fanatics who have twisted the basic truths of their faith for their own designs. These fanatics use their strident, narrow minded views of their faiths for their own political designs. Faiths have been high jacked by power politics and our core beliefs of love and respect and compassion for others are twisted by narrowed minded fanatics who have a totally distorted the true teachings of their faiths. That’s why we shouldn’t let acts of terrorism or strident condemnations of other faiths distract us from seeing the goodness and integrity of men and women of other faiths, politics or life styles. It is so easy and yet so wrong to demonize people who do not agree with us on matters of great import.
Remember the golden rule, “do not do to others what you would have not done unto you.” Every great religion has some variation of this teaching. Ours is “love one another as I have loved you.” One area of life where this golden rule seems to be lacking is in the whole matter of bullying in schools and on the internet. ”Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.” Those who do these harmful things don’t have a clue or maybe couldn’t care less about the hurt and harm they do to those they belittle and bully. Another area is how people dismiss as evil or perverted those who are gay or lesbian. “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.
We know there are great divides in the social, religious and political spheres of our lives and we can find it difficult to believe in the goodness and sincerity of those who think or live differently than ourselves. We can stereotype and demonize people so quickly.
We believe in the sanctity of all life but other good people don’t see things as we do, so black and white. We believe in the sanctity and permanence of marriage, other sincere people have different ways of seeing marriage. We can’t agree with them but we cannot see them as evil and depraved people – nor should they see us as narrow minded and bigoted because we stand by our convictions as long as we refrain from name calling and branding them as murderers.
There are many ways of looking at social justice, social welfare, just wages, affordable housing, immigrations. We have a long tradition in the church as regards social justice and fairness and as a parish family we try to live by those principles but we can’t dismiss those who disagree with us as evil capitalists.
Let us begin this new week, this new month of November by committing ourselves to live the golden rule ‘do not do to others what you would not have done to you.’ And try to live in peace with everyone.