How many have seen the movie Bruce Almighty? I enjoyed it when I saw it, I admit it was pretty funny and a good movie to watch. You had Jim Carry, Morgan Freeman as God which I admit was a good choice! There are a lot of funny moments in that movie and some good messages as well, but for me there was one particular aspect of this movie that stuck out in my mind. It was actually the homeless guy on the side of the road holding his sign. Does anyone remember this guy from the movie? He was always outside the TV studio, and a couple of times got mixed up in Bruce’s life. Early in the movie there were a group of gang members in the alley messing with this poor man he tries and stop them, but he goes a little too far and is beat up. We don’t see too much of this guy throughout the movie just at a random moment here or there. Now I hope this doesn’t spoil anything, but it’s only a minor aspect of the movie. At the end of the film we see this poor man again, and the camera zooms in on his face, and it transforms into Morgan Freeman’s face or in this instance God. I don’t know what the movie director was intending, but as I think about that transition, I think about an important aspect of our Lord’s teaching to us, that is our Lord loves the poor and God himself is present in every person especially in the poor.
In the readings this weekend we have a scribe ask Jesus a question. What is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus responds to his question with something expected. He quotes what in the Jewish faith is called the Shema, the first word in Hebrew Jesus quotes. He says, “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.” Any Jewish faithful would know immediately what Jesus was talking about and could likely recite the entire passage with Jesus just saying the first word. This passage is like the Our Father in our faith, all I have to say is Our Father, and everyone can complete the prayer without issue.
However, Jesus doesn’t just answer with one commandment he follows it up with a commandment that may be surprising. He says the second is this “love your neighbor as yourself.” He again is quoting the Old Testament, but this comes from a much less known part of scripture. It’s in a list of commands God gave his people in Leviticus and if you blink you may miss the commandment when reading it. For Jesus, this commandment is second only to loving God.
The scribe who asked him the question even takes this further, these two commandments are greater than all sacrifices and burnt offerings. For the Jewish people, this is a powerful and challenging statement. The Jewish faith had a lot of sacrifices and burnt offerings. Multiple times a year they would go to Jerusalem and offer and sacrifice different things. Their most important feast of the year was the Passover, where a countless number of lambs were sacrificed to God to remember their rescue from slavery in Egypt. For God, all of that meant nothing if they had no love and didn’t love their neighbor.
These words can be challenging to us as Catholics. We as a catholic faith put a-lot of importance on our rituals, on our liturgies. We can easily fall into the same error the Scribes and the Pharisees fell into, have a very robust external faith of actions, vocal prayers, and gestures, but when we look at our internal life, our hearts do not love God. The Mass, the sacraments and all that God provides his Church can and does help us love God more, but we are still called to love God above all things and have our exterior actions reflect our hearts.
Our Lord doesn’t stop at the love of God alone. For me this second commandment many times isn’t as easy. When I was at the seminary, I remember one day walking around I saw a guy carrying a bucket, a sponge, and some cleaning materials. My initial reaction was to see him as an inconvenience and at the time circumstances forced me to interact with him, so he approached me, and I prayed with him and gave him a little bit of money.
There was also a time recently God called to love him in my neighbor. The first day I arrived at the parish a man was at the office when Fr. Paul and I came back. He said he was walking to Texas looking for a job, we decided to help him out and give him some assistance. Four months pass by and this past Thursday I get a text that someone was walking around St. Francis and he didn’t have a car. I come to discover this is the same man I met my first day at the parish, he was walking back to Georgia. He came to the Mass at Ascension and after Fr Paul and I decided to help him out. As I was sitting with him at the restaurant, we took him out to after Mass. For me, it’s easy to look at him as an inconvenience, as someone who gets in the way of the plans I had for the night. However, Our Lord though challenges us to love our neighbor no matter who they are, (even if they are Alabama fans).
In Bruce Almighty the transition of the guys face to that of Morgan Freeman was just a simple editing trick, but it gets at a deeper truth in all of us. God himself is present in every single person we encounter. We love God by putting our entire effort into our lives of faith, by making our prayer a priority, by coming to Mass on a regular basis, but we also love God by loving God in those we encounter especially the poor. As we continue our journey with our Lord may we see our neighbor, not as an inconvenience to us but rather an opportunity to Love God!