25 October 2020

When it comes to loving
God and loving others,
there are no Ifs or Buts

‘Love All’ … a sculpture by Rachel Joynt in Templeogue Village, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 October 2020,

The Fifth Sunday before Advent (Bible Sunday).

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Castletown Church, Kilcornan

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

The Readings: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46.

‘Love is the answer’ … a window display in a shop in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Did you remember to put the clock back last night?

Did you get an extra hour’s sleep last night?

Many years ago, almost 40 years ago, I was living on High Street in Wexford, across the street from the opera house, then the Theatre Royal.

This weekend marked one of the highlights of the Opera Festival. Many of the star singers would sing and take part in the service this Sunday morning in Saint Iberius’s Church, which was just around the corner from the theatre and from where I lived.

It was one Sunday when the church would be packed, an ecumenical congregation in the early days of ecumenism.

On the Saturday night, as the clocks changed … instead of putting my alarm clock back an hour … I put it forward one hour. Quick calculations and you’ll realise I turned up at church two hours too early!

Realising my own stupidity, instead of hanging around on the corner of Main Street and Rowe Street for two hours, I skipped back to my flat for a coffee, switched the clock back, fell asleep, and turned up at church … an hour late.

Changing the clocks at the end of October sometimes seems like a silly rule, a nonsense, especially when we notice from this evening how quickly the evenings are closing in.

There is no such objective thing as time. It’s not a quantity. I could not swop my lost hour or two that Sunday morning for an hour or two later in time. I cannot swop with you my Monday this week for your Tuesday next week.

But we have simple rules, conventions and commands that make life easier for all of us. If we decided on our own rules for measuring time, none of us would ever catch a bus, watch our favourite television shows, hold down a job or – in non-pandemic times – get to church on time.

Simple commands are not an imposition or a denial of human rights when we realise they are for the good of us all: put the clock back; drive slowly; don’t drink and drive; wash your hands; wear a mask …

Most conventions like this are for our own good and for the good of others. And we accept them, not as slaves, but out of love … for ourselves, for one another, for our neighbours.

My wearing a mask protects you; you wearing a mask protects me; when we both wear masks, we protect each other.

And it’s the same when it comes to the Ten Commandments. Our understanding of commands and commandments today is clouded by our understanding of individual freedoms rather than the common good.

It makes common sense not to allow idols that represent unlimited power, ill-gotten gains or political fanaticism to take the place of God.

It makes sense to honour not just our parents but all who go before us in age, in shaping our community, in passing on the faith and good values to future generations.

It makes sense to me that others are told not to murder me, not to steal from me, not to plan and plot to trick me out of house and home.

And it should be a joy to know that these limitations are there for my safety and security, for your safety and security, out of care and love for God and for one another.

Wear a mask … drive slowly … thou shalt not murder.

Among Jews, the word for a commandment is mitzvah (מִצְוָה). And each mitzvah brings its own joy in being fulfilled. That joy alone – knowing I have done the right thing, what is pleasing to God, what benefits others – is joy enough on its own.

The joy of doing something good, for its own sake, without having to be told to do so, without expecting any rewards or favours in return, gives rise to the popular exclamation, ‘It’s a mitzvah!’

It’s a feminine noun that means ‘good deed.’ Chasidic teachers say that because the root word (tzavta, צותא) means ‘together’ or ‘connection,’ every mitzvah is a way to connect with God.

Look what happens to Matthew 22:36-40 when the word mitzvah is properly used: ‘Teacher, which mitzvah in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus replied, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first mitzvah. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two mitzvot hang all the law and the prophets.’

The command to love, to love God and to love our neighbour, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is summarised in the two great commandments in this morning’s Gospel reading (Matthew 22: 36-40; see Luke 10: 27; Leviticus 19: 18).

It’s surprising, then, how Saint Paul, on more than one occasion, reduces it all down to one great commandment. For example, he writes: The commandments … are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13: 8-10).

And again: For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Galatians 5: 14).

In other places, he writes: The only thing that counts is faith working through love (Galatians 5: 6). Or: Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in harmony (Colossians 3: 14).

In the Orthodox Liturgy, the priest introduces the Creed with the words: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess ...’ In other words, our statement of belief, in ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided,’ is confirmed, realised and lived out in our love for one another.

To love our neighbour as ourselves means to love them as we are ourselves, as being of the same substance – created in the image and likeness of God. The Church Fathers teach that we find our true self in loving our neighbour, and that love is not a feeling but an action.

To love one another is 50% of it all. And 50% was never a fail mark in my days.

When we love one another, not in feelings but in action, then loving God becomes a reality, and everything else fits into place.

And if we do anything, and claim we are doing it because the Bible says so, or because it suits us politically, but it goes against one of these commandments, it’s not Biblical, it’s not Christian.

This morning’s collect urges us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the words of the Bible. How do we show that we do this? By loving God and loving others.

If we have some prejudices against people because of their sexuality or their gender, their ethnicity or their social background, their language or their lifestyle, it’s not Christian, no matter how we search for or twist a Biblical passage. It’s not a mitzvah, it’s prejudice.

And Christ tells us in this morning’s Gospel reading there are no qualifications, no Ifs or Buts, no room for excuses or prejudices, no terms and conditions. Love God … full stop. Love others … full stop.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22: 39) … hearts hanging in decorations in a bar in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 22: 34-46 (NRSVA):

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44 “The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’”?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord’ (Matthew 22: 41) … a copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year A).

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

‘Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning’ (Psalm 90: 14) … an early winter morning at the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’ (CD 30)
525, Let there be love shared among us (CD 30)

‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’ (Hymn 517) … a painting in Saint Munchin’s College, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Putting the clock forward instead of back on High Street, Wexford, ignored a simple rule or convention … and I missed church that Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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