31st Sunday – Ordinary Time – B
By Fr. Aldo, SX
In response to the Scribe who asked Jesus about which is the greatest of the commandments Jesus says: “The first is… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mk 12:29-31 NRS)
There are some who interpret these two commandments like this: In life we have the obligation to help people by providing them support, instruction, food, shelter, etc. This however should not lead anyone to forget their obligation toward God such us prayer, catechesis, sacraments and the practice of devotions. Part of the time is to be dedicated to work, family and friends; and part of it is to be dedicated to God. One ought to be careful not to take away what is due to God.
This interpretation, even though quite popular, is but misleading. By interpreting in this way, God and neighbor look like two kids fighting for the same piece of cake. The slice giving to one is necessarily taken from the other and in the end none of them is happy.
Let us then give a look into what other New Testament writings also say about this topic. To start with, notice that out of the Entire New Testament only Mark enumerates these two commandments into first and second. In Matthew the relation in between the first and the second is unclear but he affirms that the second is like the first. (Mt 22:39)
Luke not even mentions first and second, but says that there is only one commandment: Love God and neighbor. (Lk 10:27)
The rest of the entire New Testament then does not talk about two commandments any longer, but only about one which is love for the human person. John, for instance puts it in this way: “This is my commandment: Love one another!” (Jn 15:17) And in his First Letter he says “If someone says that he loves God but he hates his brother, he is a liar.” (I Jn 4:20) And Paul goes in the same line as well: “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Rom 13:8) For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)
Therefore the two kinds of love Jesus talks about in Mark are not to be separated, but to be understood as the manifestation of the same love. Furthermore, to love God is not about giving something to God (such as time, company, prayer…) but it is about accepting His gifts, participating in His project for the good of the human person and becoming instrument of His love for others.
Obviously, anyone who wants to assimilate the ways, thinking and sentiments of God has to remain united with Him, in prayer and meditating on His Word. He or she has to be further united with Christ resurrected who, on the Day of the Lord, makes himself present in the community that gathers to celebrate the Eucharist.
Therefore, by praying we are not giving anything to God but on the contrary we are receiving from Him the love that is to be communicated to our neighbor. God is the source of all love; by being open, we receive His gift and become enabled to love our neighbor. That’s why there is absolutely no danger of loving only neighbor at the expense of neglecting God. If we really love, that love cannot but flow from God who is its true source.
We could paraphrase then the commandments: First be open to and immersed into the love of God that is given as a gift; second, communicate, express this love to your neighbor becoming God’s instrument to him or her. And remember that by neighbor Jesus understands every human person, including those considered enemies.