The reflections for October are by Bishop Francis Alleyne, Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana and Vice-President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference
Similar to the Gospel passage of last week, Jesus is approached by the Pharisees with a question, “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Another similarity is that their approach was not sincere. The Pharisees were trying to disconcert him, catch him off guard, they were bowling a “googly” at him and probably had some responses or further question ready to trap him according to how he may answer. It was not unusual among rabbis and teachers of Jesus’ time to debate topics of the law. On one hand such debates could serve to bring a person to a better understanding and appreciation of the written word but sometimes it could become a competition to see who is more witty or clever and the cleverness became the focus rather than the breaking of God’s word. As a young religious brother I remember listening to older priests from time to time talking around a theological point and I could hear the cleverness, the eloquence and quoting a text in latin. The one who got in the last word would appear to have won the exchange but it was unsure if anyone came to a deeper insight into the mysteries of God. In court proceedings a person often choses a lawyer because they always win cases, they are clever, they are fluent and well versed in the law and will get them off. It becomes secondary that justice is served and that persons are held to account for their conduct. The Pharisees approached Jesus to draw him into a debate, to test wits and to win. Jesus’ reply to them is “You must love…”.
Some time ago I attended an event of Transparency International at which Deryck Murray, former West Indies cricketer, gave the feature address. I remember him saying that sports was the last bastion of integrity. Corruption had slipped into the commercial sector, politics, academics, the protective services and into every profession and institution. Now athletes had to be routinely tested for performance enhancing drugs. It was all about winning, about being the greatest at any cost even giving up one’s integrity. The category of Amateur Athlete is generally understood to refer to a non-professional or someone who is less than fully accomplished in the sport. But the literal meaning of Amateur is “lover” or one who pursues their skill out of love for it. In a former time this is what characterised sports and athletics and indeed much of the professional world. People chose something because they loved doing it, it was their vocation, it was what best fitted their understanding of themselves and their place in the world.
Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was ‘be a lover’, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment”. That is the word that is laid at our feet, to love with our whole being. The human person, created in God’s image, is designed to love totally. The commandment to love is not a dictate from the Law, a directive from outside, it is what wells up from within from the very core of our identity and purpose in this world.
For it was you who formed my inmost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you who wonderfully made me;
how wonderful are your works,
which my soul knows well!
My frame was not hidden from you,
when Í was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me yet unformed;
and all days are recorded in your book,
formed before one of them came into being.
To me how precious your thoughts, O God;
how great is the sum of them!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
at the end I am still at your side.
O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me, and know my thoughts.
See that my path is not wicked,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Ps 139:13-18, 23, 24)