When I was in deacon formation, I had an assignment to write about a spiritual encounter from my faith life and share with the class. The guidelines were pretty loose- describe the encounter, and how it made you feel, do some research to put your experience in the context of the spiritual treasures of the church, then talk about it in class as a sort of witness statement and to explore the experience more deeply in a group.
For some reason, this assignment made me a little uncomfortable. Looking back, maybe that’s what it was intended to do. I selected what I wanted to share, did some research and found some appropriate quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas. I had other assignments due and could only afford to spend so many hours on this one. On the scheduled day I discussed my perfectly adequate findings in class.
My classmates went further with their assignments- way deeper. They told of life changing experiences, times they felt the hand of God in very personal ways, times they were unexpectedly used as God’s instruments. Insights were shared. Tears were shed.
I did the minimum requirements and got, actually, more benefit from it than I deserved. My classmates abundantly entered into the spirit and received much more in return.
I have the feeling that in this Gospel story the Pharisees were looking for the minimum requirements from Jesus. I feel they are saying- We have the Law, and the Prophets, and the Writings, and there is a lot in there- hundreds of laws and precepts. What do you say Rabbi Jesus- cut to the chase and give us a bumper sticker version because we are all busy people.
If we have learned anything about Jesus, about God, in reading the Gospel of Matthew this year, it is that God is not a God of doing the minimum. He is a God of abundance, of superabundance. Jesus fills to overflowing the stone jars at the wedding. He feeds the 5,000 with twelve baskets of leftovers, he spreads sunshine and rain prodigiously on the wheat as well as the weeds, he spreads a vast banquet and invites both the good and the bad. The message is clear- God has an infinite amount of favor and delights in spreading it lavishly.
So of course, Jesus reflects this in his answer. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He tells them- You, who were made in God’s image, remember that you have received from before your birth a superabundance of love, and reflect that love back to God and to your fellow beings. Not a metered flow of love, not the minimum required portion of love, not parsing love out as if you can store it up, not judging who deserves love. Love with all your heart, that is with every atom of your body. Love with all your soul, that is the depths of your personhood, with all your mind, the mind that our Father gave you as the capstone of creation, made by and for love.
We live in a world, a fallen world, which has limits and scarcities and practicalities. It was not so in Eden, where Adam and Eve had an entire garden to abundantly supply their needs. We live in this world but are not made for it, and our worldview should not be of scarcity but of abundance.
A worldview of scarcity feels as though resources such as money, time, and our capacity for love is limited. It tends to make us competitive, grasping for our share of a shrinking pie, and breeds negativity. A worldview of abundance knows that there is plenty to go around and there always will be.
A worldview of scarcity calls us to stay in our comfort zone. We don’t want to risk losing what little we have. A worldview of abundance tells us that though we may not see it, there is always a path.
A worldview of scarcity worries about burn-out, about exhaustion, about running out. It causes us to set limits and put up fences and closed communities. A worldview of superabundance invites us to search for God’s radical grace beyond our safe havens and boundaries.
A worldview of superabundance means all, without exception, find their places in community and all, without exception, find more love than would suffice for even the most suffering people. Pope Francis’ most recent media driven bombshell is not a new Church teaching. Francis is reminding us of what the Church has always known- God’s superabundance means that every LGBT person with their loved ones, their children and their families, are not merely accepted, but eagerly invited to participate in an abundant life with Christ anew. God does not act as an extortioner enforcing limits to his love. Neither should we.
The love of God cannot be exhausted. God has all things and created all things in abundance. He superabundantly loved us from the beginning of the world. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that we, who are made in God’s image, are not people of the adequate but of abundance. Reflect God’s abundance as perfectly as you can in loving God and loving our neighbors. This is the greatest and the first commandment.