Matthew 22:34-40
End of Time
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

The Gospel for this Sunday marks the beginning of a shift in the liturgical year.  During the last week of Ordinary Time, as Advent approaches, the church turns toward considering the last things and eternity to come.  While it might not seem so at first, this passage in which Christ tells the Pharisees the greatest commandment serves precisely to orient us toward the end of all.  It opens our eyes to a supernatural perspective, and calls them away from seeing in an earthly way.

At first, this might seem like a step too far.  Isn't Christ giving what is essentially a moral teaching here?  And aren't moral commandments really about how we conduct our lives in the here and now?  Certainly true.  Christ does teach us to love God first, with everything, and our neighbors as ourselves as commandments, and yes, he intends us to live that way, growing in our ability to love even in the small matters of our daily lives.

Yet the context of this conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees gives us a clue that more is at play: this interaction happens during the last week of the Lord's earthly life.  We read that Christ "had silenced the Sadducees," likely on the Monday or Tuesday of Holy Week, during which time he also has been speaking to the apostles about the signs of the end.  Immediately after this conversation about the greatest commandment, Jesus will silence the Pharisees as well, in such a fashion that no one would "dare to ask him any more questions."  He is preparing the way for his Passion and resurrection in only a few days' time, and so all of his teaching during this period carries with it a broader scope than that of mere daily life.

Realizing that much more than daily life in on the Lord's mind at this moment, we can start to see that the greatest commandment is in fact pointed towards eternity.  For to love God with all our "heart . . .  soul . . . (and) mind" includes the desire to posses God, to want to be where he is, to hear his voice, see his face.  When does this happen except ;in heaven?  Yes, we can and must love God on earth, but who remains content being unable o see the one they love most?  This total love of God also implies a detachment from earthly things.  We may well love our relationships, our work, our plans, our entertainments, our possessions as gifts from God whom we love most, but if we really love the giver more than his gifts, as Christ commands us, then we will hold them lightly.  This is what it means, in part, to love neighbors as ourselves, since loving ourselves rightly means loving for God's sake, loving that we have come from his love and are called back to his love in the end.

This attachment to God and detachment from the world brings to mind the truth that only God actually lasts forever, and all the things of the world are passing away.  In heaven, there will only be God's love for us, our love for him, and the love we have exchanged with those entrusted to us, with daily life and its crises, struggles and achievements all gone forever.  There will our eternal neighbors the saints, we will together fulfill the greatest commandment, and in fulfilling it, find perfect joy.  So then, to follow this commandment in the present is a far greater thing than a simple improvement in daily living; it is to live with one foot already in heaven, reaching out from among little changing things to him who does not change, drawing along with us as many as he asks.