Exodus 22: 20-26
1 Thessalonians 1: 5c-10
Matthew 22: 34-40
In today’s Gospel, we have one of those rare encounters with the Pharisees, where they were not trying to trap Jesus. We see a scholar of the Jewish Law asking Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law. This is a traditional rabbinic practice, to ask a question about the Torah, and then debate over the answer. If you go into a school that trains Jewish rabbis, you may see a room of students, one on one, debating about the meaning of some passage of Scripture. Sometimes, the debate is quite vigorous. Now keep in mind, the rabbis of Jesus’ time counted 613 commandments in the Law. Out of all those commandments, Jesus picks one as the greatest, and also describes the second greatest commandment.
“You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” How many of us squirm just a little when we hear Jesus say to us what it means to be in a relationship with the Lord Our God, the depth of the commitment that is being demanded of us: all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds. It is not enough just to come here to church every week, to take a few minutes every day to say a prayer, or read some Scripture. As good and important those actions are. No, we are to strive to be present to God every second of every day of our lives. We are called to live lives that give praise to the goodness of God, that offer thanks for God’s gifts to us. We are called to be in an intimate, personal relationship with the Father.
Now, we all have to acknowledge that for many of us, this may not be easy. We know from our own personal relationships with others, that we can fall short of the mark, that at times we will stumble, make mistakes, and not be fully present to the other. However, the Father offers us the grace to overcome our faults and weaknesses. Especially here, right now, He seeks to inspire us through His Word, and to strengthen us through the Eucharist. We need only to open our hearts, our souls totally to the transformative power of the Father’s love. We can then, in turn, be able to return that love.
And this is where the second greatest commandment that Jesus declared comes into play. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, let me repeat that, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In order to love others, we need to first be able to love ourselves.. In other words, we need to be able to accept ourselves, with all our strengths, our gifts, our talents, and our weaknesses, our faults, and our failings. And for some of us, maybe all of us, that may not be such an easy thing. But if we accept the fact that God loves us, no matter how good or how bad we are, if we have experienced that wonderful love, then we can learn to love ourselves. And if the God, who loves us, also created and loves all the people around us; how can we not care for them also. And I am not just talking about loving our family members, our friends, and acquaintances; we are called to love everyone, the strangers, people that do not fit in our communities, the social outcasts, the “aliens” in our midst. We are called to love those who are not nice to us, to those who have done us harm. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot make distinctions; everyone is a brother and sister, everyone deserves our care and concern.
“You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus describes these as the greatest of the commandments; that must be the foundation of all those other rules, laws, commandments, and as we have seen, the most challenging. How well we strive to live these commandments to love can be an example to the rest of society around us. That from us, the Good News of Lord will sound forth, and can, and will be a beacon of light to the world.