The Greatest Commandment
The challenging interactions between Jesus and the Jewish leaders and scholars continue in today’s Gospel reading. This time, the lawyer who questions Jesus thinks he is putting Jesus in an impossible position when he asks him “which commandment in the law is the greatest?" (Matt 22:35) The Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) contain 613 different laws—248 positive ones, “you shall,” and 365 negative ones, “you shall not.” How could Jesus name just one as the most important?
As usual, Jesus gives a creative and surprising answer with which none of them can find fault. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...” a verse pious Jews recited several times a day. Then he links the love of God to love of others by quoting Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He does not make up a new law, nor does he dismiss the other 611 laws he hasn’t quoted. He simply upholds those two as the best way to observe and interpret the others. From then forward, Jesus’ followers have a tool to analyze if they are faithful to the laws of their religion. In their observance of them, are they expressing love for God and others? If so, they are on the right path.
At the very heart of our faith is the commandment to direct all our energy and all our love to God, the creator of all things. He is in possession of all that is true, good, and beautiful and it follows naturally that the whole of our life should be directed to Him. Discerning and following God’s will should be the very purpose of our life. As Bishop Robert Barron says, “All of our energies should be directed towards this purpose. Not wealth, not pleasure, not power, not honour, not knowledge, not country, not family, but God must be the center of your life.” This should be clear to all of us.
But then why does Jesus bring up a second commandment? They had only asked for one. Yet Jesus adds “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:40)
It is because God loves everything and everyone that he has made. They would not exist unless He loved them. Therefore, if we love God then we are called to love what he loves. The two great commandments are intertwined. In John’s Gospel, Jesus reinforces this when he says, “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (John 4:20)
Everyone that we encounter has been created out of love by God. How can we not love them? And how do we show this love? Authentic biblical love is to want what is advantageous for another person and to act concretely on that desire. In these difficult times, not all of us may be able to give material help to a neighbor in need but the poorest of us can spare a kind and encouraging word for a neighbor weighed down with cares and troubles. All of us can pray for a neighbor who may be alone and needs spiritual and temporal help. Those who have been blessed with an abundance of this world's goods need not look far to find cases and causes worthy of their Christian charity.
Jesus’ summary of the law is truly the measuring stick by which we must act. We must look at how our actions show our complete and total love for God and our conscientious decision to care for others. Being a follower of Jesus does not mean just giving an hour a week to God. It is a daily, an hourly, a minute-by-minute choice we must make. It means thinking of God and others as much as or even more than we think of ourselves. It is acting like our God, “Who is Love.”
Today, ask yourself, who in your life is most in need of love?
God bless you folks, Father Gerard