In my homily three weeks ago, I mentioned that the Lord’s commandment to love other people can be accomplished easily by imitating God’s goodness. God always acts responsibly toward all people. God is always God; God is always trustworthy. In religious language, we say that God is faithful. God commands us to be faithful in the way that God is faithful; this is the definition of loving one’s neighbor.
The Scriptures are very clear about this commandment, but some people struggle with it because they suffer from a tragic flaw. Today’s Scripture readings can help bring to light this issue that blinds some of the baptized.
Today’s first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy recounts the story of the Exodus event. Today’s selection is part of a lengthy instruction about the benefits of living faithfully. The paragraphs in the first reading are a panegyric that lists the many blessings the God bestows on God’s People. This formal and detailed praise of God was intended to elicit gratitude in the hearts of the People.
This brief panegyric is also an accurate description of God’s nature. God is generous toward all God’s creatures. God’s generosity is seen in the work of creation and even more clearly in the work of redemption in which God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. The author of Deuteronomy says that the appropriate response to God’s generosity is to keep God’s commandments joyfully and unreservedly.
The second reading is from a section of the Letter to the Romans in which Paul describes the effects of Jesus’ redeeming death on the Cross. Paul says that the New Covenant in Jesus’ death transforms the baptized into God’s adopted children and heirs to Jesus’ risen glory.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus conveys responsibility to the disciples for continuing his mission of reconciliation. At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is about to ascend to the Father; before he leaves, he places his full trust in his disciples and promises to remain with them permanently in spirit.
Although these readings are few and brief, they portray an accurate image of God as generous, providential, eager to embrace the whole world in redemption, and trusting in God’s People. This is an image that easily inspires believers to love other people in the way that God loves them. Unfortunately, this is not the most popular image of God.
Most of the people whom I’ve encountered during my lifetime embrace an image of God that does not accord with the Scriptures. Many people believe in a god who is distant; others assume that god is merely a product of human imagination. Some believe in a god who is difficult to please, quick to condemn, and constantly in need of appeasement. Too many people believe in a god who is not entirely trustworthy; this god needs to be cajoled, placated, or coerced into acting mercifully.
These images above do not inspire one to love others; rather, these false images of god inspire distrust, dislike, and disinterest toward others. Anyone who embraces these sorts of images of god would have to exert a super-human effort to love other people. The cause of the trouble experienced by those who find it difficult to love others is that they worship a false god.
A simple truth about human nature is that we worship what we trust unconditionally. Those whose ultimate trust is in material wealth worship a material god. Those whose ultimate trust is placed in themselves worship their own appetites and desires. Those whose ultimate trust is placed in abstract concepts worship the contents of their imaginations. These false gods eventually betray the trust of their worshipers, leading to bitterness, unforgiveness, and despair. If you find it difficult to follow Jesus’ command to love other people, it might be a result of the fact that you worship a false god. If the god you believe in is not always generous, providential, trustworthy, merciful, and trusting toward everyone, then you definitely believe in a false god.
If you worry about God’s mercy or God’s forgiveness or God’s generosity, then pay attention to the Scriptures. If you want to know the One True God, let the words of the Scriptures be your daily guide for living.
The Scriptures say that God cares unfailingly about God’s People, that God is the source of all goodness, and that God never withholds God’s mercy from anyone. This is the only God worthy of worship and the only God who can inspire love of neighbor. Fortunately for us, this is also the only true God.