Jesus sums up law of the entire universe with beautiful, profound simplicity
By Father Timothy Hepner
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Oct. 25
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3,3-4,47,51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
“I have made this letter longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter,” wrote Blaise Pascal. Real simplicity requires genius. The holy grail of physics is the “theory of everything” that will bring together general relativity and quantum mechanics, and explain all physical laws of the universe. If a physicist presents a working theory, he or she will be hailed as one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived, and it will be for simplifying the universe rather than complicating it.
But we know the created world doesn’t just consist of matter and energy. There are spiritual beings — humans and angels — patterned after God who is pure spirit. They require spiritual laws. So what would it take to sum up all phenomena in the universe, spiritual and physical, and give one law that contained all others? What about doing it in a short saying that everyone could understand? That kind of genius was unimaginable until the Creator and Lawgiver of the universe took on flesh and spoke in human language:
“You shall 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. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we miss the beautiful, profound simplicity of this saying it is because we are too complex, and therefore limited. How many people are searching for “purpose” in life only to skim over this saying of Christ or falsely classify it as another version of the “golden rule” common to most ethical traditions? But there it is. My whole life — all of my time, my energy, every breath and every thought — finds its terminus in this dual purpose: Giving everything to God and to others. Charity.
TOTAL OFFERING OF SELF
Obviously there are a lot more spiritual laws that fall under this one, just as there are many more physical laws encompassed in general relativity and quantum mechanics. If we want to know how to love God and our neighbor with everything we have, we could, perhaps, identify our most frequent vices and find the correlating virtue. With God’s grace, we can then find specific ways to work on that virtue.
My whole life — all of my time, my energy, every breath and every thought — finds its terminus in this dual purpose: Giving everything to God and to others. Charity.
The opposite of lust, for example, is chastity. The opposite of envy is kindness and the opposite of pride is humility. If I have a problem with gossip, I can intentionally say kind things about others “behind their back.” If I find myself choosing other things over prayer (an injustice toward God) I can schedule some time just for me and Jesus into my calendar every day as an act of justice (giving to another what he deserves).
But there is still something even more simple and profound to realize. Jesus didn’t just speak these words. He acted them out in an earth-shatteringly simple gesture: His death. On the cross there is a vertical beam to represent the love of God and a horizontal beam to represent the love of men. Rejected by God and man, Jesus chose to offer himself completely for both to fulfill the greatest law in the universe.
And when we choose to love it is not meant to simply be an imitation of Jesus. True charity is a divine substance and can’t be manufactured by humans, no matter how much effort and good feeling they have. No, every act of true charity, even “picking up a pin for love” as the simple Little Flower would say, is a participation in the very act of Jesus on the cross. That is why we can then bring those acts — our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings — to the altar at Mass and place them on the paten for the priest to offer up.
And when he says, “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable. . . .” we know that these little things we do are being brought up to heaven, united to Jesus’ continual offering to the Father. At that moment they — and we — are brought back into the simple, beautiful, uncreated life of God. May we find ourselves there for all of eternity.
FATHER TIMOTHY HEPNER is administrator at St. Louis Parish, Princeton. He is the former vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria.