The Most Important Commandment
34 The Pharisees heard that the Sadducees weren’t able to answer Jesus. So the Pharisees got together. 35One of them was an authority on the law. So he tested Jesus with a question. 36 “Teacher,” he asked, “which is the most important commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’—(Deuteronomy 6:5) 38 This is the first and most important commandment. 39 And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’—(Leviticus 19:18) 40 Everything that is written in the Law and the Prophets is based on these two commandments.”
REFLEXION, By Fr Aldo, sx
The Rabbis of Jesus’ time while studying the Bible composed a list of all the commandments contained in the scriptures. They reached the conclusion that there are 613 precepts. 365 (the same number as the days of the year) were prohibitions and 248 (all the members of the human body) were actions to be performed. The women were luckier than men because they were obliged to observe only the 365 prohibitions.The religious leaders taught that all these decrees had the same importance and they were to be equally observed. However, they often discussed which of the commandments was the greatest. Some would argue that the precept about the Sabbath was the first; other would say that love of God was the most important; and still others, like Hillel, believed that the greatest commandment was “not to do to others what you do not wish them do to you.”
Jesus’s answer to the question regarding the greatest commandment carries two novelties. The first refers to the use of the word “neighbor.” His listeners were actually accustomed with this term; in fact Leviticus had already invited people not be vengeful and to love the neighbor as oneself. They always understood “neighbor” as someone who belongs to the same clan, the same people or race. However, Jesus uses “neighbor” with a different meaning. For Jesus a neighbor can be also a stranger and even an enemy. (The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates what Jesus means by “neighbor.”
The second novelty is the fact that Jesus places both love for God and for neighbor at the same level. When we love a person we know how to express our love for her or for him. At this point we can ask ourselves, how can we express our love for God, then? Some people say that we express our love for God by going Church every Sunday, saying a prayer before meals, recite the Divine Mercy at three o’clock, visit seven churches every Good Friday and join a procession in Quiapo once a year. But after doing all these, the doubt remains: did I fulfill the First Commandment or not? Many people in time of Jesus also thought like this, they kept on offering sacrifices and lots of money, so to prove to themselves that they were loving God.
This way of loving God based on the fulfillment of precepts surely gives us a certain peace of mind. After doing all the devotional practices we go to our day-to-day business with a sense of being good and that we are OK with God. But, is there any other way of expressing our love for God?
If I visit a very rich family, I should not pretend to pass freely through their mansion and go straight to its owner and hand him a plastic bag with the santol I have picked up in the backyard. If I did that they might ridicule me, see me more as an intruder than a guest and would not appreciate the gift. Giving my condition as a poor person, it would be more effective if I befriend the security guards first, then, some of the servants, and after, catch the attention of the children. I could play with them, tell them some stories, entertain them and share with them my santol or anything different from my homeland. If I managed to make the kids happy and have a good time, certainly their parents would be happy also and appreciate my presence. By spending time with the children I express my love for their parents.
The same happens with God. We cannot reach him directly. We can only reach out to him through his children. We can love him only by loving our fellow human beings. That is why Jesus places together the two commandments, love for God and neighbor. We love God when we keep a constant attitude of listening and live as he instructs us. The particular moments of prayer and devotion are gifts we offer to him, but more than that, they keep pre-disposed to fulfill his will in every moment.
The missionary activity of the Church builds on Jesus’ understanding of neighbor. The spirituality of St. Conforti builds on the pre-disposition to do God’s will in every moment.