The Greatest Commandment?

Today we are reminded of the core of the Old and New Testaments. Over the years we have developed and added much to the core through the study of Scripture and through tradition, and so, we sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. Today we’re looking at the forest.
Both the First and Gospel readings today give us the core principles, commandments, mission statement – call it what we will – of all of Scripture.
It can all boil down to two statements actually, as Jesus states in the Gospel of Mark, and that is the case in the Moses’ tradition as well. Although we call them the Ten Commandments, we can note all the first three commandments deal with our relationship to God, and the last seven deal with our relationship with others.
So what is that relationship and what are the two great commandments, the two things that we must do so that it may, in Moses’ words, “go well with you” and “so that your days may be long”, and so that we may be in a place of healing, what the ancients called a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
The section of our first reading today from Deuteronomy only deals with the first great commandment, and is about our relationship to God. We are told that “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” In other words, there are no other gods – there is one God, the God of our Fathers. And the command is this: that we should love that God with all our heart, soul and strength.
Here’s a question for you: How can we be commanded to love something or someone? Can we just decide we are going to love someone and do it? Most of us would say that this is not possible, but what if we were to look at love as a verb instead of as a noun? What if we thought of it as “doing” instead of “being”?
Isn’t it true that people can say that they love someone all they want, but the proof lies in what they do. If people can love us without never doing something for us, how will we recognize their love as love?? Love has to express itself in action. I think Paul agrees with me because remember he tells is that “Love is patient, love is kind..” and so on. These are all ways to show that love is a verb. It takes action, reveals itself, must in fact express itself.
So if it seems to weird to us to have God command us to love Him, there is a way to actually do it. Do God’s will, keep God’s commands and you will be loving God.
The second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, gives us an example of a great love, but which is a love that proves itself in the doing. Jesus’ love for us was so great that he was willing to die for us. That is the reason he is a high priest, a mediator between us and God – forever. Because he continues to live, continues to love, he has been made perfect forever and continues to show his love forever. And how does he show his love – through action, of course. When we pray, he becomes present, when we share the Eucharist, he becomes present – he does… he enters our lives… he continues his perfect sacrifice of himself.
The Gospel of Mark today then deals with this same issue. A scribe has been listening to Jesus. By the way, a scribe in Israel is comparable to an attorney today—someone with education and status. The Scribe today asks Jesus a question because he has been impressed with Jesus’ answers to the religious authorities. He knew the answer to the question he was asking, but he was testing Jesus to make sure that he knew Jewish Law, and could distinguish what was most important in it. So he asks Jesus simply what was the greatest or the “first” commandment. Jesus makes sure to answer the question correctly, but because he feels it is not enough, he addresses the second great commandment as well.
For the first commandment Jesus recites the very words of the Deuteronomy that we read today, although he does add one thing. Deuteronomy says that we must love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and strength. Jesus adds “mind” as well. We must love God with all our mind. In other words if love is action, we must attempt to get to know God, understand God and the will of God.
This is the answer that the Scribe was expecting to hear, but it seems like he was also expecting more, and Jesus gave it to him.
The second great commandment involves other people… our neighbors, and it, too, is a command to love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. Again, this must translate into action. It is no good to say we love our neighbors unless we show that love for our neighbors. This is certainly one of the reasons our parish supports the ATF foodbank, BlueJacket, Inc., and the families in crisis through CANI. In most cases, we don’t know the people we are helping, but we show love to them by doing the things we do to help them.
The Scribe was pleased with Jesus’ answer because it was precisely what he understood the Law to be. The Scribe adds that following this law of love is far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifice, which is what the religious authorities were concerned about. And Jesus’ response to the Scribe is amazing: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. So if we’ve mistakenly thought of Christianity as a one way ticket to heaven and that nothing else matters, we are wrong. The Kingdom, according to Jesus, is not just in some Heaven. It is here and now, and that through our actions, understanding and love, we can enter it.
So here is your homework: this coming week thinking about this question: “How am I taking action to show my love, both to God and toward other people?” Is my own need for my own comfort, my own status, causing me to forget that others want and deserve good things, too. Can I show love by sharing a little more from the bounty God has given me? And as far as the first commandment, can I show God my love by trying to find some time to actually shut up for 5 minutes and just listen to him, to find him in prayer and companionship at church, to host him in the Eucharist. In short, how can I better follow this very doable commandment from Jesus?

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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