31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
When Jesus is asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” he does not strain to find an answer. He responds with the scripture that was inside the doorpost of every house, worn in a pendant on heads and prayed every day. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” It literally surrounded Jesus and every day. But he then adds a second scripture from Leviticus and elevates it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably linked. And it seems obvious as to why. If you love God you should love all that has been created.
That is why it is so painful when the law of love of neighbor is violated. It undercuts all we believe. It is not just a crime against humanity; it is a crime against God. It is unholy. It is a desecration.
Lately, we have witnessed a horrid series of events that are both personal and seismic. In Pittsburgh, eleven people perished for doing what we came here to do – to worship God. Pipe bombs delivered to political enemies remind us once again that we confuse politics with the ultimate when it is meant to serve the ultimate. Our political discourse is only becoming more course, more divisive. And locally, racial taunts were casually tossed at soccer game with heartbreaking affects felt by those assaulted.
The only way to combat this plague is neighborliness. The lovers of God must profoundly state their love of neighbors. And as Jesus reminded us in the parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbor is everyone and we are called to treat them with mercy. So we must show mercy by having conversations with our families about racism and telling our African-American friends that we don’t stand with these attitudes and we won’t stand for it. We must show mercy by insisting on civility in politics and not rewarding those who indulge in the ugly and demeaning. We must show mercy by reaching out to our Jewish friends and say we understand that was an attack on all of them and on all of us.
That is what happened on Monday night at Congregation Gates of Heaven where 1100 people overflowed the synagogue in support of the Jewish community and standing up against hate. I reached out to my friend Rabbi Matt Cutler and asked him to reflect on love of neighbor. This is what he shared.
I believe in God with a whole heart. Even when my heart is breaking and I sense there is a lack in justice in the world, I still believe in God. Like Elijah the prophet who searches for the Holy One; he finds God after destruction: “After the fire, there is a still small voice…” I believe that God speaks to me through the love that I find from my neighbors.
The shooting in Pittsburgh during Sabbath morning services has shaken me to my core. It so easily could have been our synagogue, but it wasn’t us. Yet still, I felt vulnerable and alone. Anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head once again. I grope for answers as many in my community did: Where was God? How can we stop such visceral hatred that has turned violent? Why did such rage burn uncheck and unhampered by a sense of sheer compassion for another of God’s creatures? The answers came on Monday evening as over 1100 people filled the synagogue to overflowing capacity. I was not alone in my grief. The Jewish community was not abandoned in their time of pain. Others shared the burden of the pain. Others shared my desire to cry out in anguish. Others shared my sorrow-filled search for justice.
I believe in God because I believe in humanity. I believe that God created us in the Divine image and as a result we are God’s partners in the on-going work of creation. As such, when my neighbors’ arms wrapped around me in a compassionate embrace, it was if God was doing so. I felt the Divine presence as people of various faiths stood and shared on Monday night. When 1100 voices said AMEN, I knew I was not alone. And no words of gratitude can thank those who were present for strengthening my resolve.
I believe in God with a whole heart. And thanks to my greater community, all created in God’s image, God comforted me when I needed my faith the most.
Rabbi Matt’s beautiful words remind us that love of God is the path to love of neighbor. There is a false narrative that religion drives a wedge between people; that it is a source of evil. The opposite is true as shown by Monday night at Gates of Heaven. We desperately need communities of people dedicated in their essence to love of one another grounded in the love of God. Religion does not divide us, it unites us. The worst people in history and the most hateful of individuals always strike at religions. Even when our church is bruised with all its imperfections on full display, our voice is needed and our strength is wanted. We must uphold our values. We must love God and love our neighbor.