I always like to imagine myself being in the group of people Jesus is addressing when I read passages of Scripture like we see in today’s Gospel. We are told that Jesus is speaking to his Apostles, a group who have come to know him pretty well and, by this time, have grown somewhat accustomed to the challenges he places before them. Having said that, if I were tucked away in the corner of the room listening, I would be somewhat put-out, to say the least. I would be thinking: “So, let me get this straight. If I don’t love you more than my father, mother, son or daughter, then, I am not worthy of you? Well, maybe I don’t want to be worthy of you.” That can be so like me, rushing to judgment without knowing the whole story.
These initial words of the Gospel remind me of my wife when she is trying to get my attention. She will often say a few things that will make me sit up and listen, and then, go on to tell me what she has to say. I think the same is happening here. Now that Jesus has our attention, here comes the really demanding part. The part that calls us out of our comfort zone and into action.
Saying you love someone can be easy. If a couple, who is in a long term committed relationship, counted how many times they would exchange the words: “Love you; Love you too!”, while heading out the door for the day, going to bed, or just parting for a few hours, I think the number would surprise them. And, while I am sure these words are sincere, the true scope and meaning of them are not thought of every time they are spoken. The hard part is how you live them. What actions do these words call you to; that make them truly come alive.
This is Jesus’ challenge to us today. It’s not enough to just profess how much we love Jesus. It has to manifest itself in tangible action. It’s like we’re told in James 2:17, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”. I don’t think it’s an incredible leap to include love along with faith in this quote. Jesus tells us; if you love me, then your life is truly not about yourself. You must become welcoming to all, not just the people you like or agree with. You must be attentive to the most basic needs of people; including a cup of cold water on a hot day.
This all sounds great, but the question that will be in the back of a lot of people’s minds will be: “What’s in it for ME?” Jesus, in anticipation of this coming up, addresses it this way: “Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones—truly I tell you, that person will not lose their reward.” And what is that reward? Peace! There is not much in this world that will provide us with more inner peace than doing a good deed, selflessly, in service to another. I would tell our children constantly when they were young: “you will never be truly happy until you figure out that your life is not about you.”
The message for me in this Gospel: talk is cheap…you know the rest.