Tuesday, October 24, 2017

We should be bothered!

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Recently, I’ve been watching YouTube videos of "Dame" Lauren Alesha Masheka Tanesha Felicia Jane Cooper, or just Lauren Cooper for short, a fictional character played by the versatile British comedian and actress, Catherine Tate. In her 16 year-old-school-girl persona, Lauren displays impossibly obnoxious behaviour and attitude, and has a penchant for disregarding authority and annoying her teachers to the point of madness. In the class, she’s the student which every teacher abhors and wish they could get away with murder. When placed on a spot, or when she’s feeling angry or embarrassed, she hits out with her most widely known phrase “Am I bovvered?” (i.e. bothered - the “v” takes the place of the “th”). In other words, “Why should I care?”   Not surprisingly, when we are either in a fit of anger or generally feeling indifferent to the plight of others, that same question becomes our popular anthem too.

So, why should we be bothered? Why should we care? Well, today, the Lord gives us the Great Commandment which is formulated in two parts: Love God above all else but equally love of neighbour too. No matter how often we hear these words, we are struck by the demands they place upon us. Our Lord brings together the love of God and love our neighbour as something inseparable like two-sides of the one coin. The first verse Our Lord quotes is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, a standard answer which even a young Jew could recite by hard, but the second is from Leviticus. How did loving our neighbour get tied to loving God?

Quoting the Roman historian, Sallust, Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI shows us what the authentic content of love is: “To want the same thing, and to reject the same thing was recognised by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to community of will and thought” (Deus Caritas Est, 17). To love God would be to identify our will with His. And His will is for us to love others. So, how do we love God perfectly and totally? It is through loving our neighbours. One cannot exist without the other: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20-21).

But loving others is not easy, especially in a world that highly esteems individualism and permits stepping on others to get ahead. Leviticus 19:9-18 actually provides us several ways, though the list is not exhaustive, as to how we could love our neighbour.
“When reaping your harvest, you should not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not oppress your neighbour or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbour: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD”

It is clear from these examples that ‘loving your neighbour’ means more than just being nice. At the heart of such love is justice!

There is another thing that needs to be stated about the second part of the commandment. Our Lord tells us to “love your neighbour as yourself.” This seems to sit well with many of us. Unfortunately, the saying has morphed from “Love your neighbour as yourself” to “Love your neighbour because you love yourself” to “Love yourself so you can love your neighbour.” Instead of reflecting the one who gave the command it has descended into a twisted, nasty, self-focused, inverted mantra. We have made ourselves the focus of the love. You don’t have to be an obnoxious character like Catharine Tate’s Lauren Cooper. I guess many of you watch reality TV. It could be America Got Talent, The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor, or something else. But no matter which show it is, there is a good chance that you will hear something to the effect of “You must learn how to love yourself.” It’s the mantra that claims to lead us to real love but really offers no love at all. Just look at Whitney Houston, who sang that the greatest love of all is to love yourself. Obviously, she didn’t believe in her own message when she spiralled down the path of drugs and a mysterious death, perhaps even, a possible suicide.

The claim of increasing one’s self-love in order to love others more, is rubbish. Increased self-love impedes loving others; it is an obstacle.  In fact, the reality of self-love is a twisted, idolatrous worship. We love ourselves because we seek to be our own god. This is certainly not what the Lord intended. Our Lord knew the reality of human nature, that we value ourselves above anyone else. So He used the human commitment to our own well-being and comfort to set the bar for love of others. In one simple phrase He called us out of ourselves and into an others-focused life. The reality of self-love ought to be a constant reminder of the need for real love – the love of others. As Christians, we know that the origin of genuine love does not come from within. We love others because we are loved, because God loved us first even though we were sinners. From Him comes our true worth.

Make no mistake, our religion can become an escape and our holiness pretence if we pray daily, go to church on Sundays, yet cut ourselves off from the people who are worshipping under the same roof as ourselves. So, should we care about others? Most certainly because God cares about how we treat others. There is no denying that to love one’s neighbour can be challenging especially when the people next door are inquisitive and their children downright bad-mannered.   Not to mention the obnoxious colleague at work or in the school or even in the parish who often seems hell-bent on trying our nerves. To show love in such circumstances is dreadfully difficult and demands great effort and yet, more often than not, we meet God in such an encounter. It is also good to remember that sometimes the obnoxious one is, none other than, us!

Today, we are being asked to have a good look at those shadowy nooks and crannies of our lives which are sealed off from God and others. To profess that we love God while remaining indifferent to the plight of others or worse, despising them, is a contradiction. We are asked to move away from our self-centred, selfish love to love others. We should be “bovverred!” We are called to love God whom we cannot see by loving others whom we do see. The gospel which Our Lord preached is not an ideal to be admired from a distance but a way of life to be lived. As the old Jewish midrash reminds us, “How do we know that the night is over and the day has begun?” The answer is profound as it is simple: “when we recognise other people as our brothers and sisters.”  May a new day begin in your lives!

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