If you could meet God face-to-face and were given the opportunity to ask him just one question, what would you ask him? Think very carefully.
In our Gospel for July 14, we find a scholar who is in this very situation. He has a brief encounter with Jesus and he asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a pretty good question to ask. And Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s all the response he receives: Love God with everything and your neighbor as you would love yourself. Amazingly simple. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Do I live in such a way that I love God with everything and my neighbor as myself?
Notice what Jesus reveals here. The path to eternal life is not a passive one. Meaning, a person cannot simply avoid doing evil. Living the life that Jesus calls each of us to live is not merely saying “no” to doing bad things. Rather, it is a life that is active. This is the fullness of what it means to be human: to choose to go out and love God and our neighbor.
Love of God. Seeking to love God first is an invitation to build a relationship with the one who loves perfectly. God has brought us into existence and shown that he is willing to sacrifice his life for us, even when we betrayed him through our sin. He offers us eternal life. Loving God with everything is our path to fulfillment because that is what heaven is all about: being loved by God and loving God back.
The second part that Jesus speaks about for gaining eternal life is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus gives us a very moving parable, to which we can all relate. I’m sure we can all see ourselves as the victim in the story, when we’ve felt hurt or abandoned. But we must also see ourselves in the position of the Good Samaritan, and we must see this as a privilege to serve. Jesus has given us the honor to share his love with the world. God could reach out from heaven to each person in need, but he has given us the honor and the privilege to be the ones to make his love known to a hurting world.
So how can we do this? First, we need to love God. We need to pay attention to God and how he first loved us. He did this by sacrificing everything. Then, we need to pay attention to our neighbor and, as the parable reveals, everyone around us is our neighbor.
Yes, this is a difficult calling, but it is a holy calling. Loving God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves is our path to true happiness and fulfillment. When we choose to push through our complaisance, fear and anxiety, and we love God and our neighbor as ourselves, we begin to live heaven here on earth.
So let us ask God together: “What must I do to gain eternal life?” And listen to his response: Love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself.
Father Gjengdahl is chaplain at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria and sacramental minister at Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee as of July 1. He previously served as pastor of Nativity of Mary in Bloomington.
Sunday, July 14
Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time