According to today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that the greatest thing we can do with our lives is to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus has taken two familiar Old Testament texts and puts them together. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 to make His statement about love of God, and then he cites Leviticus 19:18 regarding love of neighbor. What is new is that He put them together as the greatest of the commandments, Jesus gives them equal weight in terms of seriousness and gives them a new interpretation.
From now on, all good works have value both as acts of love of God and as acts of love for neighbor. The two can no longer be separated, even in the Bible. We can no longer speak of one without the other.
By linking the two commandments together Jesus makes explicit what was only implicit in the Old Testament. For example today’s reading from Exodus forbids us to exploit the poor and helpless because the Lord will surely hear their cry.
Implicit in this reading is the close connection that exists between what we do to our neighbor whom we see and what we do to God whom we cannot see. Jesus now makes this close connection not only more explicit, but goes on to say that it sums up the entire teaching of the Old Testament.
Jesus said what you do to the little ones you do to me. Saints like Father Damien of Molokai and Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw this connection clearly and spent their lives in loving service to the most abandoned people in society as a way of expressing their love for God. It may not be our calling to minister to the most unwanted, like lepers and AIDS victims, war refugees and immigrants, or alcoholics and drug addicts, but it is our call to balance in some suitable way the vertical dimension of our relationship with God in prayer with other people in mutual service.
The praise we give God with our lips might be followed by using those same lips to talk to someone who is lonely, to encourage someone who is disheartened, or to cheer up someone who is sad. The prayer we pray with our hands might be followed by using those same hands to hug our children or spouse, to prepare a meal for our family, or to do some housework for a shut-in neighbor.
May the Cross formed by our vertical and horizontal acts of love remind us always to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees have missed the point. They have present before them the long awaited Messiah and the very Son of God. He comes in word and power to teach and heal. He brings the good news of forgiveness and a new creation. However, the Pharisees are preoccupied with trying to keep things the way they want them to be that they try to trap Jesus. The ask ”Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor?”
If He says yes, the people will resent Him. If He says no, He could be reported to the Romans as a revolutionary. Then He could be arrested and imprisoned. His answer is to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is God’s.
What an answer! When you think about it, we are God’s creatures. We are His. What Jesus is saying to us is that we need to give ourself to God.
Jesus points out that we are Citizens of two worlds — the world we see of body and matter, and the world that is unseen which is of the spirit. As such we have duties to both worlds—to man and to God. Our duties to man include not only what we owe to Caesar (what we owe to our government in terms of taxes and allegiance), but also what we owe to others and to ourselves.
Besides belonging to the world we see, we are citizens of the unseen world of the spirit; as such, we owe God praise and thanksgiving, honor and glory. We owe God worship because He is all good and the source of all that we are and have.
However, here too we owe something to ourselves in the sense that we should pray, read Sacred Scripture, and receive the sacraments in order to develop our life in the spirit. It is really important that we take care of our inner life as much as we do our outer life. We cannot allow ourselves to make the same mistake the Pharisees did. They got so caught up in their own trivial pursuits that they missed the meaning and message of Jesus. May we always render what we owe to Caesar and what we owe to God.