Matthew 22: 34-40
(from the Missal)
The Most Important Command
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.
A story: "My wife is the reason I know God loves me. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful things that I have heard a man say about marriage recently. These words were spoken by the owner of a diner where I was having lunch in a little town in last summer. Ralph had an opinion about every topic which surfaced during our conversation. The topics were many and he moved through them like a kid opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning. When he said all he had to say about a topic he tossed it aside and moved on to the next. In about an hour we had touched upon the church, religion-in-general, God, love, relationships, fidelity, fate, homilies, vocations, celibacy, and married priesthood to name a few.
He said a lot of things that evening; but I will never forget what he said about his wife and God in a single sentence; for it struck me as a beautiful transposition of how we love God by loving others. That is, Ralph clearly saw that God loved him BECAUSE of this woman that God placed in his life, and THROUGH this woman that was placed in his life. The connection was concrete, immediate and spoken as a matter of fact. My wife is the reason I know God loves me. Beautiful."
Dear Friends, I found this little story a great example of today’s message, which reminds us very clearly and powerfully about something special – LOVE. We are aware of true love by parents and grandparents, wives and husbands, children and grandchildren and hopefully by God as well. Naturally, it is much easier to understand LOVE through those who are close to me, because we know each other, through living together or seeing each other quite often. But that is not enough. Jesus reminds us today: ‘Love your God with all your heart… and others as well as you love yourself’. I invite you to read this Gospel passage again, to listen to it being read and to put into action what it tells us to do. How can we do it all these things? Let me tell you how.
The Pharisees, who were very pleased that the Sadducees had been silenced by Jesus, now had their own challenge for him. “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” they asked him. This was a much discussed question among the experts. There were more than 600 laws and it was common to ask which ones were of greater importance than others. Jesus responds very quickly, not by using his own words but quoting from the Books of the Law themselves. And his answer contains not one, but two laws:
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.
Jesus would have known this prayer, the Sh'ma Yisrael, very well from when he was a small child. All Jewish boys learn this and he would have prayed this every morning when he got up and at night when he went to bed. This prayer comes from Deuteronomy 6, a book in the Old Testament containing the civil and religious laws for the Jewish people. Here is a part of this beautiful prayer from Deuteronomy 6: 4–7.
‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.’
Jesus himself added on ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself’.
So Jesus is, strictly speaking, answering their question about the “greatest commandment”. The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbour. On these two commandments, says Jesus, “hang the whole Law and the Prophets also”, in other words, the whole of the Old Testament teaching. Jesus is saying that as long as one is truly, loving God and our neighbour, the rest of the Law will take care of itself. And there may even be times when such love will transcend and override the requirements of some laws. No truly loving act can ever be sinful.
How do you love your neighbour? There are endless ways. Perhaps you can help those who have no food by working in a foodbank or donating food to a foodbank. To help clothing the naked, you can pass on clothing you no longer need to a charity shop or give somebody in need, some of your clothes or your children’s clothes. Visit an elderly person who has no family to visit them, or take them out for a run in your car to shop or to visit a Tea Room. Or visit a single mum who is finding it hard to cope with her children. Read a book to her children, or take them out for a few hours to give mum a break. Welcome new neighbours and invite them for a cup of tea. Visit someone in a hospital or a nursing home. Help someone cope with loss or tragedy etc. That is how to love your neighbour and you will find many more ways that you can help.
On the other hand, how do you love God? I suspect that the love of God can be found very simply, in every good action. It seems like the most immediate way to love God is to love your neighbour. Every neighbour bears the likeness and image of God and commands the highest dignity afforded to man, who is a special creation of God.
‘To love God and love your neighbour’ – this is one of the most beautiful of Jesus’ sayings. It is an encouragement to live fully with what brings the greatest joy in life – true love of God and our neighbour. Love is central to our religion and love brings us closer to Jesus. His love for us and our love for Him!
We admire those who give their time, freely and willingly, in love and service to others. We are proud of people we know whose lives make a great difference to the lives of others. We know that our family and neighbourhood, parish and school, workplace and leisure time have been enriched by the self-sacrificing love of many people, young and old.
We are people of the 21st century, living in a much changing world. However our human natures and weaknesses are quite similar to those of the Sadducees and Pharisees. But never forget that we are people of God, who is with us always and he loves us so much. Today let us read again, the Gospel reading and reflect on what you have just heard in this Reflection. Let each of us think about our personal experience of being loved by God and by others and give thanks to God for this.
Fr Roman Scrzpa SDB
You have asked us to continue to love one another, for love comes from You. Anyone who loves is Your child and knows You. Those who do not love, do not know You, for You are love. You have shown how much You loved us by sending Your one and only Son, Jesus, into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love - not that we loved You, but You loved us and sent Your Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Thank You, Jesus, for giving Your life for ours. We were not worthy, yet, You made us worthy to love and know You. Thank You! Today, we confess that we will love You with all of our hearts, souls, strength and minds, and we will love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Father, show me how to strengthen my relationship with You and my neighbour…
Make a list of those who love you, those are loved by yourself and those who need be loved…
and then pray often for them.