The question that is put to Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading – ‘Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ – was with a view to disconcerting him. Jesus was being put to the test.
Yet, in spite of the questionable motivation behind the question, Jesus took the question seriously and gave his questioners and all of us an answer that is worth pondering. Although he was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus’ answer put two commandments side by side.
The first commandment was the core of the prayer recited by observant Jews several times a day, called the Shema. The Hebrew word Shema means ‘Hear’. The prayer is called after its first word, ‘Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one…’. In a similar way, the prayer that we might pray several times a day as Christians, the Lord’s Prayer, is often referred to by its first two words, ‘Our Father’.
The combining of this commandment with the commandment to love our neighbour seems distinctive to Jesus. For Jesus to love God with all one’s heart and soul and mind is inseparable from the love of neighbour in the way that God loves them.
Elsewhere Jesus defines ‘neighbour’ in a very inclusive way as embracing all of humanity, including even our enemy. Jesus declares that the whole Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Love is the key to interpreting all the requirements of the Law and the prophets. Jesus shows us by his life and death what loving God with all our being and loving the neighbour as ourselves looks like.
He not only shows us what such love looks like, but he also pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we may be empowered to love in the way that he does. Amen
Fr. John Peter