In today’s Gospel, Jesus is put to the test by a teacher of the law. He challenges him by asking: “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest.” The Law that he refers to here is the Torah, the Jewish Scriptures, which comprise the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. If you have read through these books, you know that there are many laws and regulations given to Israel after God had led them out of Egypt. What the teacher of the law in today’s Gospel is really asking, therefore, is: “Out of the more than 600 laws contained in the Torah, which one is the greatest.”
In reply, Jesus says that the love of God is the first and greatest commandment. At these words, Jesus’ interlocutor, being a teacher of the Law and a devout Jew, would have immediately recognized an allusion to the Shema, the most important Jewish prayer:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9)
Thus, Jesus reminds us that the command to love God is all-encompassing. We ought to love God with our whole being – With our heart, which means our will, with our mind or intellect, and with our soul, that is, our very life. This, then, provides a point of reflection for us today and every day: How have I loved the Lord today? How am I trying to grow in virtue (i.e. heart/will)? How am I trying to know Him better (i.e. mind/intellect)? Do I live my life in light of my ultimate destiny, realizing my life here is a pilgrimage to eternal life with Him (i.e. soul)?
Although Jesus answers the questions with the first and greatest commandment, He also goes on to add the second in importance, and then concludes saying: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” But the reality is that this second commandment is not really a separate one. Instead, it flows directly from the first. There is no love of God if it does not become manifested in our love for our neighbour. We are not truthful when we say “Lord I love you” if we are not able or willing to love our neighbour. What we do to others, we do to Christ, as He himself reminds us when he says: “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Mt. 25:45)
Now, the reality of life is that it is not easy to love our neighbour. It is quite natural to find some people around us who are easy to love and get along with. But it is just as natural to have those who are hard to love. The Lord knows that the commandment to love is not easy. Indeed this is why it demands our whole being! Let us look to Christ, who gave His entire being out of love for us on the Cross and realize that it is only by His grace that we will be able to love and He loved. Let us take comfort in today’s responsorial psalm and say to the Lord: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”
Santiago Torres – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
Fot. Dan Kiefer/Unsplash.com