Exodus 22: 2 – 26 I Thessalonians 1:5C-10 Matthew 22: 34 – 40
We have the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, and numerous laws and rules we are expected to follow as members of the Church. In the Gospel Jesus makes it clear that of all of these, two take priority. The Gospel begins by informing us that Pharisees and Scribes are intent on getting Jesus with their questions. This would give them something to charge him with and have him silenced. However, they failed to realize or accept that with Jesus they weren’t dealing with a mere Man, but with one was fully human and fully Divine. His answer reveals his vast knowledge and understanding of God’s word, after all Jesus is the Word made Flesh.
The question put to Jesus seems simple; “Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” If Jesus were to single out one commandment he would have opened himself up to being accused of saying that the other commandments were not important. This response could be twisted, distorted and taken out of context to attempt to ruin the credibility of Jesus as a teacher. The wise response of Jesus is to quote two teachings from the Pentateuch. The first is from Moses’ instructions to the Israelites in the dessert; “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is from a passage that all Israelites were very familiar with, and is known as the Shema. It was recited at the beginning of their gatherings, it was worn in leather pouches around their wrists and foreheads, and was found in little containers on the doorways of their homes. There was no way that they could criticize Jesus for citing this as being the greatest commandment. To do so would be an attack on Moses himself. Jesus then adds a second commandment. (Doesn’t Jesus always do more than we expect or ask of him?) This second commandment is from the book of Leviticus, (19:18) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Luke’s Gospel this teaching about the neighbor is followed by the parable of the Good Samaritan which answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable and the readings this weekend teach us that our neighbor is much more than the person who lives nearby. We are bound to one another by God who created us in His image and likeness, and sent his son, Jesus, to unite us as brothers and sisters. Our history of accepting prejudice because of race, ethnic background, or creed, give testimony of how difficult this second great commandment is to live. This commandment is not about building walls to keep those we see as undesirable out, but rather building bridges so as to welcome the alien, refugee, and the persecuted. We are sometimes quick at rejecting the messenger who calls on us to open our hearts to all our neighbors, but while rejecting the messenger who challenges us is easy,it does not change the reality of this teaching of Jesus.
While it is easy for us to say that we will love God above all, although we struggle with living it. Materialism, ambition and pride often have us put God in the back seat. It is much more difficult to say that we love our neighbors as ourselves. But that is what the scriptures teach us today, and it is what Jesus teaches. These two commandments take ongoing work on our part in order to master. We might never master them during our lifetime, but there is the need for us to continue to progress.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.