Monday, November 5, 2018

The Greatest Commandment

                                    31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading from the book of Deuteronomy contains the famous saying that every Jew would have known by heart during the time of Jesus. 

Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!
Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, 
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

How were the Jews to love God, the God who had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt? Moses told them to keep the statutes and commandments which the Lord had given them. We know that after the time of Moses the original Ten Commandments had grown to more than 600, an incredible array of do’s and don’ts that put a great burden on the people.

However, in today’s gospel passage a Jewish scholar asked Jesus  “Which is the first of all the commandments?” As usual, Jesus chose to simplify and get right to the true spirit of the Law. In his reply Jesus combined two verses from the Hebrew Scriptures, the first that we heard above from Deuteronomy, and the second from Leviticus, 19: 18. 

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 first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

He combined them because his life and mission showed that the love of God and the love of neighbor went hand in hand. One is not possible without the other.

How do we love a God who we cannot see or hear? Jesus insisted over and over again that we love God in loving our neighbor. Perhaps mystics and great saints can see more directly but for ordinary people the more we love our neighbor, the more we love God.

But who is our neighbor? Please notice that Jesus did not tell us to love everyone willy- nilly. I once heard a story of a man who loved mankind in general but despised every individual he ever met. A feeling of love for humanity in general is not what Jesus talked about. On the contrary, Jesus always directed his love at individuals directly in front of him. He really meant it when he said love your neighbor.

Our closest neighbors are those entrusted to our care: our parents, our spouses, our children, our sisters and brothers. If we can’t love them, who can we love? It is really sad sometimes to see people neglect their own families for the sake of some seemingly noble cause. 

Loving those closest to us means helping to lift  the burdens that life has placed on them. As children we often thought that our parents were placing unnecessary burdens on us, but we rarely thought about the burden we placed on their shoulders. How often did we neglect to pitch in and help? Why do husbands and wives often make each other’s life harder when it is so much easier to share the load? Even Seniors, who should know better, often place unnecessary burdens on their grown children.

What are friends for, if not to help us share the burdens of life? What kind of love is it that constantly makes demands on others without lifting a finger to help? Actually, the more we love those closest to us, the more will we be able to love others. 

We know that Jesus extended the very meaning of neighbor. In the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, he asked, “who was neighbor to the man”? It was the Samaritan who cared for the Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed despite the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. It is hard to imagine the Samaritan stopping on the road to help a stranger in distress without believing that he had experienced real love and caring in his own family and neighborhood.

Jesus showed us that the way to love God is through the love of our neighbor. All that we do for those entrusted to our care and protection, we do for Him. 


Reading 1.  Deuteronomy 6: 2-6
Reading II. Hebrews 7: 23-28
Gospel. Mark 12: 28-34 (The Great Commandments)

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