This Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew presents us with yet another encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus.

In Jesus’ day it was commonly held that there were some 613 laws or commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Much debate in rabbinic circles revolved around which were of most importance and which of lesser. Jesus is pointedly asked, “Which is the greatest of the commandments.”

Jesus responded to the question with two quotations from the Torah. The first quotation came from the sacred Jewish prayer called the Shema. This was a prayer contained in the Book of Deuteronomy 6:5 and recited by pious Jews every morning and evening, “Hear, O Israel, God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind.” The second quotation came from the Book of Leviticus, 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, loving God is not a half-way endeavor. We are to love Him with everything we have. And inextricably linked to our love of God is our love of neighbor. There, too, we can’t just will the good for our neighbor sometimes, we have to will the good for them always, even if they be our enemies.

The cross of Christ, so central an image to our faith, captures this two-fold truth. Our Lord, out of love for the Father (vertical), stretched out his arms (horizontal) in love for all of us, the good and the bad, friend and enemy. We too, if we claim to love God cannot escape stretching out our arms in love for each other.

I came across a story about a young woman who was troubled because she had lost a sense of God in her life. Her grandmother was very much the spiritual leader of the family, so she visited her and complained, “If God really loves me, why doesn’t He let me feel His presence? If only I could feel Him and know that He has touched me.”

Her grandmother said, “Pray to God, right now. Close your eyes and pray to Him. Ask Him to put out His hand and touch you. But no matter what happens, keep your eyes closed.” The girl closed her eyes and prayed fervently. Then she felt a hand on her hand. “He touched me. He touched me,” she cried out, her eyes still closed. Then she said, “Wait, this hand feels like your hand.”

“Of course it does, dear. It is my hand,” her grandmother said, “That’s how God works.” He takes the hand that is nearest and uses that.”

This week let us renew our pledge to love God with all our being. And let us seek be God’s hand gently reaching out and touching others, reminding them that they are loved by God.

Have a blessed week,

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