In the Gospel today Jesus asks a very difficult question. Who do we love most? If one were to pose this question to people on the street most would likely answer; my husband/wife, mother, father, children, fiancé’, etc. These are the people we have close contact with and hold close to our heart. Married couples have vowed to love one another until death, regardless of sickness, poverty or bad times. Can we love someone more than that? According to Jesus we can. Jesus tells us the answer he expects is to love Jesus more than anyone else. Few people on the street would probably answer “Jesus” if asked who they love most. This is not because they don’t love Jesus, but rather that we tend to put our immediate relationships first. They may very well love Jesus and have great faith and devotion, but don’t keep him in the forefront. We are the “people on the street.” We might sincerely love Jesus and spend time in prayer and reflection. We might read the Bible and other spiritual books and find great inspiration that leads to changes in our lives. However, we have trouble with thinking that we don’t love the people in our lives who we are close to, more than anyone else. We might not consciously think that we don’t love Jesus “with all our hearts, all our souls, all our mind, and all our strength,” but we’re not quite to the “all” part of the relationship.
It can be difficult for a husband or wife to say that they don’t love each other more than anyone else, or for someone to say that they don’t love their children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and siblings more than anyone else. Yet Jesus tells us that to be his follower we cannot love anyone more than we love him. In the First Letter of Saint John he tells us; “God is love…..” Love originates from God himself including the love we have for others. It was out of love that God created us and that God sent his Son to suffer and Die for us, and to rise from the dead. This love fills us and unites us with Christ. For Jesus tells us that whoever welcomes one of his followers welcomes Jesus himself; whoever gives a cup of water to someone gives it to Jesus. When we love Jesus above all we are filled with his love and the ability to love others more than ever before. This is the love that graces us with the ability to forgive the spouse, the children and grandchildren. It is the source of grace to remain faithful to someone during sickness or other difficult times. It is the pure and unconditional love of God that flows through us when we accept the love of Jesus and respond to him with total love.
The expectation of Jesus that we love him more than others, is not meant to have us rank the people in our lives, and it is not meant to have us love the important people in our lives less. The expectation of Jesus that we love him above all is one that is meant to lead us to a deeper experience of love. God’s love is so great that when we open our hearts to it we grow in that love throughout our entire lives. It is the love that forgives and transforms us to look at others the way that Christ himself does. This love is impossible for us to fully understand, yet by growing in God’s love we experience it more and more each day of our lives.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Artwork: God the Father by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515.