When training for any form of sports, be it track and field, football, badminton, basketball or anything else, it is important to get the fundamentals of the preferred sport correct. It doesn’t matter if you will become a professional at a later stage or even if it is just for social activity, learning the basics of the sport is essential to both enjoy the game and also to avert any injuries. Like me, I am sure many others too learned to play different types of sports by just playing the game and not going for any “lessons”. From experience, I have found that once we pick up certain habits or techniques when there is no proper coaching, it is very hard to undo and relearn the proper technique.
In the gospel today, Jesus wants to make sure that His disciples get the basics correct in the school of discipleship so that He will not have to undo some “bad traits” later. The context of the gospel today is around the question “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” By the time of Jesus, it is said that the Law included 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions and 268 prescriptions. All these laws were considered binding because they were given by God to Moses. To the Pharisees, some laws would have been more important than the other laws but it surely would have been quite a task for Jesus to sift through all those commandments, prohibitions and prescriptions and chose ‘the greatest’.
Despite recognising the trap set before Him by the Pharisees, Jesus saw this as an opportunity to set things straight not just for the Pharisees but also for His disciples. Jesus’ answer is not only faithful to His Jewish tradition but makes it very clear that the act of loving God must occupy one’s entire being and not just some superficial allegiance. In other words, the love for God cannot be reduced to mere rites and rituals but allowing ourselves to be transformed into being channels of God’s love to others.
In Sherlock Holmes films, we often hear the English detective Holmes telling his assistant, Dr Watson, “it’s elementary my dear Watson!” What was obvious and based on simple reasoning to Holmes sometimes escapes Watson’s comprehension. In a similar way, by saying that the love of God (Dueteronomy 6:5) and of neighbour (Leviticus 19:18) are the two fundamental commandments that whole Law and the Prophets hinge on, Jesus sets forth the rudiments of Christian discipleship. When we fulfil these two, all other commandments fall in place – it is elementary!
Jesus makes clear in His public ministry that love is going to be the foundation of the reign of God and St Paul goes further to add that love is the greatest theological virtue (1Cor 13:13). It is quite easy for many of us to be distracted by laws, rules, rites and rituals because these things regulate uniformity to a great extent. Even though the rule of law is required , it is essential that love, above all else be the underlying principle that regulates and guides us along that path of following Jesus.
It is sometimes easy and convenient for us to cast “judgy eyes” on people who do not meet the spiritual standards we set for ourselves. However in that process, we end up alienating the weak, the imperfect, the sinner, and others. As disciples of Jesus, the love and compassion that we show to all, irrespective of who they are, where they come from, or what level of faith they are at, is the most fundamental and powerful form of evangelisation – this is in no uncertain terms, elementary.
When you have learned to run properly, you no longer think about it, you just do it. Honing in on the fundamentals enables good habits to transition into virtues. The gospel today reminds us that we need to return to basics because along the way, we have picked up many “bad habits” that could do more disservice than service to the mission of the Church and ultimately to Jesus. When we rid ourselves of some these bad habits and replace them with virtues, we now not only make a big impact on our own faith but also the faith of others. What habits can be found in my life that don’t please God? It’s time to kick them out!
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (25 Oct 2020)