Love God First, Then Love Neighbor
October 3, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jonah 1:1-2:1-2, 11) Gospel (St. Luke 10:25-37)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells this man that if he were to love the Lord with his whole heart and soul and strength that he would indeed be doing what is right and he would be justified in doing so. Yet at the same time, as we hear the man wishing to justify himself, he then asks the question: Who is my neighbor? Well, we see so much of our own selves in these things. It was pride that brought this up in the man. He came out with the right answer, which, of course, he was not truly living, and then tries to justify himself to the Lord by upping the ante a little bit, no different from us. But the real problem has to start with the first point. It is one thing to look at it and say, “We have to love our neighbor” – and we do – but we are not going to be able to love our neighbor unless we are loving God because our love for neighbor flows from our love for God.
How many of us, in fact, are just like Jonah in the first reading. Here, God had called Jonah to do something, and Jonah runs down to the port and hops on a ship for Tarshish. Tarshish means “as far away as you can possibly get.” That is the idea of the place, so it is to try to get away from the Lord. Then Jonah is down in the belly of the ship as the storm rages and the crew is afraid for their lives. They bring Jonah up and say, “Who are you and what are you about?” He says, “I’m a Hebrew and I worship God.” He was running away from God! But isn’t that just like us? We will sit here and say, “Oh, I worship the Lord and I love the Lord,” but we do not want to do what the Lord wants us to do. We run the other way. The Lord makes clear to us in one way or another what He wants us to do, and that is not what we wanted, and so off we go following our own pursuits and doing what we want. How can we say that we are going to love the people around us if we cannot even love God? We cannot.
So we have to make sure that the first point is there: to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength then to love our neighbor as ourselves. The order is critically important here because our love for neighbor flows from our love for God. The amount of love you have for the people around you is directly related to the amount of love that you have for God. Whether that is your spouse or your children or the people next door or the people down the block or somebody you have never even met, it does not matter. The love that you have for others is directly related to the amount of love that you have for God.
So we need to make sure that we are truly striving to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, not giving Him lip service like Jonah did and proudly saying, “I worship the Lord.” Yes, we can say the same thing: “I come to Mass everyday, but I don’t want to do God’s Will.” Is that our situation? We will give Him lip service but we are on the ship to Tarshish half the time, trying to get as far away from the Lord as we can. That is what needs to stop. We need to get it turned around, we need to seek the Will of God, and we need to do His Will. Otherwise, we cannot really say that we serve the Lord, and we certainly cannot say that we love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. Until we love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, we cannot love our neighbor as God intends us to love them.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.