(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Mass-Blog-for-the-30th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2023.mp3)
Love is not just a feeling. It powers our very being. It motivates us to ensure someone else’s good. Love is God in action, and it’s as reactive as a nuclear explosion. Its absence is bad.
The Old Testament is filled with laws telling us how NOT to be bad. Moses carted ten of them down a mountain for God’s children to follow. Ten of anything is a lot for our child-like mind to remember. Remembering back to our childhood, we know how well our parents’ “Thou shalt nots” worked—even if the feared “or else” was added.
The Old Testament scribes must have been of the same tough-love school of motivation, judging by how they interpreted God’s version of “or else”:
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword. (Ex 22:20-26)
Jesus came to know intimately humanity’s limited capacity for selflessness, so he made Our Father’s diverse directions for sparking mutual reactions a lot simpler:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:34-40)
Paul started his adult life as an old-school thou-shalt-notter. That ended when the Christianity he railed against planted the seed of compassion in his heart, took root and exploded into the love-by-example model Christ lived. Paul’s moral blindness was cured by the explosive light of God’s thou-shalls. His conversion became a contagion among idol worshippers like those Thessalonians who, like Paul, ended up seeing God in each other rather than in the false idols that continue to lure humanity away from God to this day. Those with the courage to reject pop culture’s contempt for the selfless love of the other have always been punished for it, even in ancient Thessalonica.
Brothers and sisters: you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers … so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thes 1:5c-10)
Such love is instinctive, even amidst affliction, and to this day, when we find strength to avoid the distracting gods of our culture, we free ourselves to model it and motivate others. Such otherly love is a powerful distraction from gods who only teach self-love—the kind that implodes and disappears. Love of others—unrestrained—explodes, spreads and inspires. We know the simple two-factor formula for it. God challenges us not to forget it.