The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the sons of Israel this:
‘“You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt. You must not be harsh with the widow, or with the orphan; if you are harsh with them, they will surely cry out to me, and be sure I shall hear their cry; my anger will flare and I shall kill you with the sword, your own wives will be widows, your own children orphans.
‘“If you lend money to any of my people, to any poor man among you, you must not play the usurer with him: you must not demand interest from him.
‘“If you take another’s cloak as a pledge, you must give it back to him before sunset. It is all the covering he has; it is the cloak he wraps his body in; what else would he sleep in? If he cries to me, I will listen, for I am full of pity.”’
You observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord; and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great opposition all round you. This has made you the great example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread – and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere. We do not need to tell other people about it: other people tell us how we started the work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
“The greatest commandment”
by Sr Sarah O’Rourke FMA
Today’s Scripture is centred on love and relationship. In the Book of Exodus God called on the Israelites to reach out to the marginalised among them. St Paul commends the Christians in Thessalonica who have joyfully embraced their faith and preach the Good News by their actions. In Matthew’s Gospel we read about the Pharisees’ last attempt to outwit Jesus so that they can arrest him. Asking Jesus which was the greatest command of the Law was certainly going to cause a commotion as the Law of Moses contained 613 commandments. Jesus quotes just two laws, one from Deuteronomy and one from Leviticus and combines them into one. What’s more he even claims that the whole law and the teaching of the prophets are summed up in this one law. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
This is the challenge that Jesus offered to the Pharisees who tried to trick him and it is the invitation he extends to each one of us.
Jesus transposed the Greek ideal of ‘know thyself’ into ‘love thyself’. We are free to love ourselves because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Divine love and human love are intimately connected. Only when one really loves oneself is one free to love another with a oneness of heart. We do not live in isolation as we are relational beings. A Gaelic Proverb catches this wisdom: “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”…people live in the shadow of one another.
Throughout Laudato Si Pope Francis calls on us to encourage a ‘culture of care’ which permeates all of society. By doing this “the world, and the quality of life of the poorest, are cared for, with a sense of solidarity which is at the same time aware that we live in a common home which God has entrusted to us.” LS 232. Regardless of our age, life opportunities or experiences each one of us has “a sphere of influence” where we can make a difference. We would do well to remember the example of The Little Flower, St Therese of Lisieux, who is well known for her practice of the little way of love, the small daily gestures of care and respect. An integral ecology is also made up of small daily gestures “when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our dignity.” LS 211.
And so we pray
“God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
Laudato Si ! Amen.”
by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
Introduction to Lectio Divine
This Gospel passage is well known to us today. Jesus is not revealing anything new when he teaches that loving God without limit and loving one’s neighbour as oneself are the basic duties of every believer. We know so well what the first commandment is, the one that really matters, that maybe we feel free in relation to keeping the others. And maybe there is a certain reason for this way of thinking. It is not too hard for us to convince ourselves that we really love God, yet we pay little enough attention to what he wants of us. We think we love him sincerely and we dispense ourselves from getting to know his will. We know the love we have for God but we pay little heed to God’s love for us. Many good Christians think it is enough to love God without trying to love his will. For that reason, they do not pay much attention to God’s commandments.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
What was originally a friendly discussion (see Mk 12, 28-34) is presented in Matthew as a serious debate on the meaning of Scripture. After his successful argument against the Sadducees (Mt 22, 23-33), the Pharisees felt obliged to engage an expert to test Jesus, who was acknowledged as a teacher. The question may seem reasonable, given the large number of precepts contained in the law, but the evangelist notes the bad intention that motivated the questioners. This is not, therefore, a genuine discussion between different schools of interpretation, but a trap set for Jesus. His reply is traditional and even orthodox. He combines two commandments of the Law: total love of God (Deut 6, 5) and love of neighbour as oneself (Lev 19, 18). The gospel makes no mention of his listeners’ reactions – they could not but agree with him.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does not propose a scale of priority between the two precepts, (as in Mk 12, 31). He puts them both on the same level. One is the greatest and first commandment and the second resembles it. They are not identical or equivalent, but they are perfect and inseparable. They are not interchangeable, nor can the order be altered. Jesus concludes the discussion by saying that together they contain the whole law, and, he adds unexpectedly, the prophets. Both are necessary and binding. They are not free options. They do not depend on how much God or neighbour deserves to be loved, but only on obedience to God. The law and the prophets depend on that double love, which is, therefore, the basis of the law.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The law had 248 precepts and 365 prohibitions. It is easy then to understand the bewilderment of those at the time of Jesus who sought to observe the law. If every article of the law was willed by God, then none of them could be neglected. But was there some part of the law that was more important than all the rest? Jesus’ reply was not original but it highlighted the problem and it gave a criterion to determine how the law was to be obeyed. Mere obedience is not enough. What matters is the quality and motive of our obedience. The obedience due to God is a matter of love. Only by accepting this can we do God’s will. The obedient person is different from a slave precisely because he loves the master he serves. God does not want slaves but people who love him. God, obviously, must take first place in this obedience of love. If this is the case, then our love of neighbour has a firm foundation.
The essential thing in obeying the law is not the scrupulous fulfilment of every detail of the law, but the motive for our obedience, love of God and neighbour. If we love God and neighbour, then everything we do is in accordance with God’s will. If we do not love God and neighbour with all our heart, our obedience is nothing more than scrupulous observance of the law. If that is the nature of our obedience then we are not really concerned about what God wants of us, either because we take it for granted or because we don’t want to know.
Our problem today is not that of the people of Jesus’ time who sought to obey God’s will even in the most insignificant details of the law. Faced with the multiplicity of precepts and prohibitions – more than 600 in all – the people were confused, and no wonder. If everything was God’s will, then nothing could be regarded as unimportant. If everything was commanded, then everything had to be obeyed. To disobey one precept was to disobey God’s will.
But that kind of obedience required an extraordinary effort that was bound to prove oppressive and, in the end, useless. Who could boast of having observed all 248 precepts, and who could say he had never transgressed even one of the 365 prohibitions? It was this sincerely held religious concern that prompted Jesus to reflect and ask if there were not something in the law that was more important than all the rest. Was there not something special, that God wanted of his people above everything else?
Jesus’ reply was not very original. Other teachers had given similar solutions to the problem. However, they stuck to the question: love of God, complete and without exception, was the first commandment. We might be inclined to think that simple answer was enough to solve the problem. However, it might also appear that by reducing all the commandments of the law to the exclusive love of God, Jesus made life more complicated for us. It is not a matter of limiting ourselves to what God has commanded or forbidden, if indeed that were possible. God insists that when we obey him, we do so, not because we want to, but because we truly love him. In serving God, anything we do simply because it is commanded is of no value, if it is not done as an expression of our love for God. For this reason, therefore, the first thing God asks of his people is not exact obedience in fulfilment of his will, but total personal love.
The God of Jesus does not want well-behaved sons and daughters, but sons and daughters who love him. Obedience that does not come from the heart might be very exact and complete, but is of no merit and is not worthy of God. Scrupulous fulfilment of God’s will is of no value if it is motivated only by fear. A human master is obeyed out of fear, but not so the Father. We expect recognition and payment when we serve a human master, but we expect nothing from the Father. Respect for God and for his law comes from the heart and not from fear. If we feel obliged to do the will of God without really loving him, our efforts are in vain and our obedience is false. Instead of loving God our Father, we are reduced to obeying God as our master. Obedience, no matter how exact and thorough it may be, is of no value if it is not the fruit of love.
The obedience due to God is, therefore, a matter of love. Loving God with our whole heart comes first and is more important than simply doing with our hands what God wants of us. God wants to transform his servants into sons and daughters, and for this reason wants us to love him with all our hearts. It is by loving God that we obey him. Unfortunately it is possible to live a Christian life, being very careful to obey God’s law and proud that we do not offend him too much, and still not love God with our hearts above everything else. That kind of life is of very little value.
If we ask ourselves today, what is it that makes us do God’s will, it will help us to see how much God matters to us, and whether or not we truly love God. If we continue to be good Christians, seeking to observe God’s law, only because we are afraid of one day losing him, and because we fear God’s punishment, we have already lost the Father we have in God and we have ceased to be the children he wants us to be.
Observance of God’s law is, then, a matter of the heart. God loves all his children and wants us to love one another. The second command, which obliges just as much as the first, makes our neighbour the centre of our attention. Anyone who keeps God’s law becomes his brother’s guardian. The obedience we owe to God, as the fruit and expression of the love we have for him, compels us to recognise in our neighbour a child beloved by God. And it demands that we love our neighbour as God wants us to, in other words, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The reply given by Jesus could not have been better. God who desires from us an obedience based on love is not asking for anything difficult or impossible.
The essential thing in the fulfilment of God’s law is not scrupulous observance of the detailed prescriptions of a set of rules, but the love of God and neighbour. If we love God and neighbour, everything we do is the fulfilment of God’s will. If we do not love with all our hearts, then we are doing nothing more than observing a law, and it does not matter how perfect our observance may be. Observance of the law is worth nothing if it does not make us love God and our neighbour as ourselves.
Jesus’ reply creates a problem. He does not want us only to obey him, often in little things. He insists that everything we do be done with our whole hearts. The person who does the will of God because he loves God, and loves his neighbour because God wants him to, is never satisfied, even when he has done all that is prescribed. Anyone who truly loves will always want to love more, and obedience will cost him less because he loves. If we are less concerned with obedience to God today than they were in the time of Jesus, is it perhaps because we do not love God as much as they did? If our religious practice does not put God above all the other things we love, then why do we continue to obey God? If doing his will does not transform us into loving children, our obedience is of little value.
Jesus puts before us the will of God as the norm for the whole of our lives so that we may love God while we obey him. This makes our obedience become easy. Jesus also proposes that we love our neighbour as ourselves, so that we may meet ourselves in loving him. This makes our obedience remain easy.
strengthen our hope,
enkindle our love;
and so that we may obtain what you promise,
make us love what you command.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.