First Reading: Ex 22:21-27; Psalm: 18. R. v. 2; Second Reading: 1Thes 1:5c-10; Gospel: Mt 22:34-40.
LIVING THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39).
In the gospel narrative of today, Jesus voluntarily fell to the trap of the Pharisees to drive home the right understand of the whole of the commandments. The Pharisees are learned men, well versed in the scriptures and known to have interpreted the law into 613 commandments. The lawyer in the gospel of today who also happened to be a Pharisee, pretending to be oblivious of the knowledge of the law decided to test Jesus by demanding to know which is the greatest of all the commandments. The precise reply of Jesus to his question was conceivably not for his consumption but for the enlightenment of the listening crowd.
To answer his question, Jesus borrowed two passages from the book of law: Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The great Shema Israel) and Leviticus 19:18. The great Shema is a common prayer recited daily by the Jewish people. It reads; “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 you might.” The second passage from Leviticus reads; “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” It was from these two passages that Jesus summarised the whole of the law and the prophets.
Let us take a look once again at the reply of Jesus to the lawyer: “And Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” This great reply of Jesus appears as though Jesus is demanding two religious duties from us – to love God and to love our neighbour. But this is not exactly the case. We can put it this way; that Jesus is asking us to be like the sun that emits both light and heat simultaneously; but that the sun is not the originator of this light and heat. To understand this analogy, we shall proceed on our reflection on this passage bit by bit.
The first mistake that we can easily make in attempting to understanding this passage is to think that we are capable of loving God on our own. Taking a look at this passage; it is obvious that Jesus is asking us to love God first with all our heart, soul and mind. But is this humanly possible? God is Spirit though not elusive. But we know that spirits are invisible. So, we are faced with a number of questions here. Can we love a spirit? If yes, how can we prove and ascertain that we love God whom we cannot see? What is the yardstick to measure our love quotient for God? Are we even capable of loving God on our own?
The truth is that we are incapable of loving at all without the help of God. That we are able to love is because God who is love loved us first by making us in his own image and likeness. So, we are the embodiment of God’s love. We are creatures of love that learnt how to love from the love we received from God. Therefore, we cannot love God as though love proceeds from us independent of God. We can only truly love God by giving ourselves back to God.
So, to love God with all our heart, soul and mind begins with this consciousness. The consciousness that we owe our existence to God. The consciousness that we are creatures of God’s love incapable of anything good without God. The consciousness that the greatest love is the love of God that owns and breathes life into us. The consciousness that our love cannot shine out like the sun without God the originator of love. This consciousness can inspire a total submission to God. But that is not all. The love of God does not end here.
Recall that Jesus said; “And the second is like the first. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Our love for God is complete and perfected in our love for neighbour. The two works simultaneously just like the sun that beams light and heat concurrently. “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1Jn 4:20). So, when Jesus said that the second is like the first; Jesus was saying that we can prove that we love God in our love for neighbour. And for the avoidance of any misread; a neighbour is anyone created in the image and likeness of God. But again, we must admit that we are incapable of loving a neighbour adequately without relying on the love of God.
If we decided to love our neighbour dependent on how they treat us; we will most definitely build fences. But if we saw in everyone our very selves who are the embodiment of God’s love; we will be drawn by the love of God in our neighbour and not repelled by the flaws in them. Perhaps, this may sound over theoretical than practicable. And this is where gratitude becomes the vehicle to make this gesture of love for neighbour feasible.
If we are mindful that we are the embodiment of God’s love; that we owe our existence and all that we have to God; we will in gratitude requite this generous love of God in our love for neighbour. If we considered that the privileges and opportunities we presently enjoy are a testament of God’s love for us; we will feel beholden to God to return his love in gratitude through our love for neighbour.
In the first reading of today, the Lord warned Israel: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This command of God is a command to love in the spirit of gratitude for God’s love and mercies. If Israel was grateful to God for sparing their lives in their time of slavery; they will return this generous love of God with love for neighbour. When we feel that a neighbour does not deserve or is less deserving of our love; gratitude to God for his love and mercies over us should compel us to love anyway. To love our neighbour as ourselves is appreciating God’s love for us through charity towards our neighbour. And we know we cannot be grateful enough to God for his love over us.
So, if we can still breathe and live; we should feel indebted to God to respect every human life as sacred. If God’s love is unending; then we must never stop loving. Our love must shine out like the sun so that every neighbour will feel the light and the heat of God’s love through us. Our charity towards our neighbour assures them of God’s love. This is why loving a neighbour brings honour to God at the same time. “You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflow in many thanksgivings to God.” (1Cor 9:11-12). These words of St Paul re-echo that the ultimate end of every act of charity is honour to God. To love our neighbour is to love God, and conversely.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord God, we thank you for the gift of yourself to us in love. We pray that we may always cooperate with your Spirit that lives within us to inspire us to love just like you. Amen.