“CAN I LOVE YOU ALL THE WAY?” (Mk 12:28-34): 29 February 2008 (Friday)
I remember watching a hilarious sketch from “The Carol Burnett Show” many years ago. Carol Burnett plays a woman who is put to some kind of “Virginity Test.” She is asked to cross a special narrow bridge, which according to legend, allows only virgins to make it to the other side. Those who have lost their virginity fall into the waters and drown.
While hearing this, the character that Carol Burnett plays begins to show signs of anxiety, drawing laughter from the audience. When her turn comes, she nervously gets on the bridge and very cautiously makes her way across the bridge. She almost makes it, but just before reaching the end, she loses her balance, but instead of falling into the waters and drowning, she ends up with only one foot in the river. Quickly withdrawing her wet foot, she looks around and explains: “I never went all the way!”
Today the Lord is asked about the greatest commandment, and he basically tells us to “go all the way.” He quotes Scripture:
“Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.”
My immediate response to this is: “Are you kidding?!” Isn’t just trying to love God tough enough? But to love him “with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength”–where do we even begin? Can I really love God that way–that is, “all the way?”
And as though that’s not enough, even before we can protest, almost in the same breath, our Lord adds what he considers the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Now that’s a little bit more manageable. But let’s face it: It’s all right only for as long as our neighbor is lovable or at least not dislikable. But what do we do with that commandment when our neighbor gets abrasive or worse, begins acting mean towards us as people sometimes do? Loving our neighbor then becomes real hard work. The problem is, when neighbors begin to behave badly, we don’t even want to try to love them anymore.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is also a virtually impossible task if you don’t love yourself. Some people I know have yet to learn to accept themselves and love themselves for who they are. By stating this commandment this way, our Lord is telling us that self-acceptance and self-love is far from simply being selfish. He knows that it is an essential requirement for us to love our neighbor. For as long as we haven’t accepted ourselves and learned to love ourselves, we can never really accept or love others.
So you see, these greatest commandments aren’t exactly the easiest to follow. Where does this leave us? Isn’t it a little frustrating to know how virtually impossible it is for us mere mortals to follow the two greatest commandments?
One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, has a different and helpful take on this matter. He says that if we feel this way about the so-called greatest commandment, we may be missing the point here. When our Lord says, “You shall love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” he isn’t just issuing a commandment. He is also making a promise! With his help, one day we will be able to love him all the way.
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “Do you recall a time when you actually came close to loving God ‘all the way’–or loving your neighbor almost as much as yourself?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from “The Carol Burnett Show”)