“I’m all in!” It seems that whenever I am looking for sports scores these days that there is inevitably a poker game being broadcast. At first I really didn’t see the attraction of watching people play poker. After watching for a little while I recognized that the excitement must come from the moment when someone was prepared to go “all in” and to risk everything on what they thought might be a winning hand. The idea of being “all in”, of taking a risk, of putting everything on the line is appealing to us and raises excitement. I would guess that a poker player would tell you very clearly that if you are not willing to go “all in” and risk everything, then you should not be playing the game.
In the gospel for this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus is asked to define what commandment is the greatest of all the commandments in the law. Jesus responds without hesitation, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all (your heart, your soul, your mind).” The fulfillment of the whole law depends on a person being willing to be “all in” when it comes to the love of the Lord God. Loving God cannot be a part time endeavor. It can’t be accomplished in half-measures and pious platitudes. The love that fulfills the law is the love of complete and total self oblation. It is the “no greater love” of “laying down one’s life” (Jn 15,13) in a sacrifice of love. “True love is that which gives all to God generously and joyously; which always wishes to give him more; which is never satisfied, so long as there is anything left to give him,” writes Fr. Jean-Nicolas Grou sj. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1Cor 13,7), St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians. Without love we can do nothing to please God. There is no commandment of God that does not have love as its foundation and its completion.
To fulfill the law and the commandments and to love God one must go “all in” with their life. This should be an exciting prospect for us – to be willing to risk everything, to be willing to lay it all on the line, to believe so strongly that you are willing to give all you have to the endeavor – should excite us and challenge us. It is worthy of our life’s pursuit and it may take us a lifetime to learn it well. Matthew, in his gospel, has Jesus emphasizing the interior journey of transformation of a person. One must love God with all his heart, mind and soul. These are the arenas of interior life for a person. Loving God and fulfilling commandments is not something that we do merely as an outward show or to appear pious to others. We cannot just offer token acts of devotion and fulfill the commandment to love. We must love deeply and purely from the deepest depths of our interior being. We must “be” love in our interior core.
Jesus does not stop there even though they asked him for the greatest of all commandments. He confidently adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love follows a Trinitarian model: the total self-gift (the mutual love of Father and Son) and the fruit of that love (the Holy Spirit). The Father gives everything to the Son and the Son returns it to the Father having born fruit in the Holy Spirit. So true love is not an ideal, romanticized, abstract love but must be real and incarnate and bear fruit. A love that is purely abstract and ideal becomes a “crazy love” or a “tainted love” that may be expressed in radical and fanatical ways. An example is the fanatical jihadist who is willing to do crazy things out of his expressed love of God but has no love for others. His love is an ideal but is never incarnate. The love of God is necessarily an incarnate love and it draws our love of neighbor into the relationship. St. John expressed it clearly in his letter to the Church, “We love because he first loved us. 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. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1Jn 4,19-21)
Jesus taught the “teachers of the law” a great lesson in love and caused them to go away examining their own interior motivations. You cannot profess love of God and at the same time harbor violence toward your neighbor in your heart. Without love and the incarnate fruit of that love in our lives we have nothing to offer to God – nothing else matters.