A scribe approaches Jesus and asks, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” All the centuries later, all Christian people know the answer. We know it well. The first commandment is to love – to love God with our entire being, all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The scribe agrees, essentially repeats Jesus’ answer and then adds a great insight. One that barely registers in our memory, if at all. The commandment to love is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” It is worth more than all we might hold dear about the practice of our religion. It is worth more than the language used, the elaborate churches we build, the outward piety we show, and the traditions of faith we repeat – sometimes without registering a lasting memory at all.
If we love God with our entire being, all that we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves – then we “are not far from the kingdom of God.” And then silence. Everyone listening in on the conversation falls silent, not daring to ask Jesus another question.
That moment of betwixt and between when we are caught short and wonder if we truly know anything about love. Not the love on a Hallmark card. Not the exploding love of the young couple at the restaurant table next you who just got engaged. Not the easy, sentimental love posted on Instagram. Not the love that might make you feel temporarily “over the moon.” Yes, there is love that explodes in joy, pouring out from the heart. Love that is true and a divine gift – that in the moment seems like a fountain-fullness that has no end.
But there is love that brings us to silence.
The love that might just cut me to the quick when I realize that in my relationship to God and other, love has its demands and awaits a response. The love that might forever change the road upon which I journey. A road which holds little promise but guarantees sorrow, sacrifice and suffering. A road that in the silence, may well lead me to ask, “where is God in all this?”
When was the last time love brought me to silence? When faced with that unwanted moment we recalled the words of the first and greatest commandment? Did we put on the armour of that first commandment assured that the grace of God would be ours for the journey? Did we pause, and in the silence, pray, “God let me walk this road in love with tenacity, with strength, willing to sacrifice. Lord, teach me to love.” Did we pray even knowing that this road might well break us?
I think that the deepest moments of love portrayed and displayed are surrounded by silence. There are no words, no fireworks, no festivities. Only silence. The silence of a hospital room. The silence that follows the argument between husband and wife, parent and child, lover and beloved. The silence in the midst of an airport waiting area. The silence of a long drive home in the dark hoping to see the porch light still shining in the dark of night.
And yet you are there; prospects and the future uncertain. Worries and fear aplenty. Sorrow, sacrifice and suffering likely. You are on the road. There are plenty of exit ramps but you journey onward with a love portrayed that silences all who watch. All who marvel in admiration. All who shake their heads in disbelief.
I hope that you know that even if it seems like just one foot ahead of the other, that you walk in response to the first commandment. I hope you discover that God walked this journey before you. I hope you come to know that this is the radical love we are called to live. The radical love on display in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
And if asked, “Why are you doing this?” Break the silence with simple words. “My love of God and neighbor compels me.” Then let silence provide the moment for the other to ponder your witness.
We are all on our own roads. But today at this rest stop along your way, come to receive the Eucharist. As we each come forward, celebrate the silent approach to the altar, to the throne of mercy. It is the source of that fountain fullness of grace. It is the deepest moment of love offered to you that you might love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself. It is food for the journey.