Love God and Love Your Neighbor

Just before this encounter with the scribe, Jesus had to endure the hair-splitting narrow-mindedness of those who used the Law to abuse others, Jesus included. Now with the scribe he experiences a completely different attitude: a mind and heart open to the mystery of the divine that is beyond human comprehension.

The scribe asks what is the most important commandment and Jesus answers with two commandments which he treats as one, revealing an important aspect of our faith: we often have to hold together disparate things which, to our minds, may even seem contradictory. For Jesus, it is not love of God or love of neighbor. The two are intrinsically linked and inseparable. Loving God means loving in community, which reflects the God who is One and Three, Trinity. How do we get our minds around that? Or how Jesus is both human and divine, or how he is present in the Eucharist under the form of bread and wine? To begin to live from such mystery we need open, generous minds and hearts.

Adapted Renew international Year B 2021

The other religious leaders had tried to trap Jesus in their narrow minded interpretations of the Law, but this scribe came with an open mind and a generous heart and was able to respond to the wisdom Jesus offered. In fact, we see him taking it even further with his understanding of sacrifice and love. How loving this man must have already been in his life. Jesus was delighted. Together they were able to show expansiveness in their understanding of God and of each other. In the face of such magnanimity of spirit, no wonder the others around were reduced to silence. Their petty questions shown for what they truly were: base meanness.

What a change! For once someone from the professional religious classes, a scribe, asks a genuine question: he really wants to know what Jesus thinks. And for once Jesus doesn’t answer a question with a question as he usually does with these religious ‘authorities’. He answers simply using the Schema, the daily prayer of the pious Jew based on Dt 6:3, and an edited quote from Lev 19:18. You can tell how delighted this scribe is with Jesus’ answer as he repeats it back, almost word for word, savouring the wisdom – then he adds his own wisdom which in turn delights Jesus.

Talk about heart speaking to heart. This man shares Jesus’ understanding of Law and religious tradition. These are not intended to be used to attack others, to put people down or to make one feel morally self-righteous. They are a form of discipline for body, soul and spirit that prepares a person to lead a life of worship of God and love of neighbor. People offer ‘sacrifice’ so that they can give generously in love. People conform their lives to all the ‘Thou shalt not’s of the commandments so that they can face the destructive forces of sin that undermine their desire to live rich and full lives in the love of God. Law, morality, Church practice and discipline do not exist to make us feel like failures or to make life difficult. Rather they exist to help us acquire the wisdom to live and love with the dignity of the children of God. [Living Liturgy 2015]

What Is Important?

What is the highest value of our culture? How does that single value arrange other values?
 When we ignore the rhetoric and simply look at someone’s lifestyle (ourselves or others), we’ll soon learn the answer to the question: what’s most important? The question asks more than values. It points toward a life orientation. It helps to answer the greater question: what is the purpose of life?

In a relationship with God, we can ask the same question: what’s most important? How does that question impact our prayer life, our family life, our social life? What one principle or character trait tells others we are followers of Christ?

A scribe asked Jesus that question. While Jesus’ answer may have been a common one at the time, the underlining understanding Jesus gave the answer changed more than his followers. It changed the world.

Jesus answered the first part of that question with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Love God with all your being. Love in this sense was not an inner emotion or psychological state alone. In the time and culture of Jesus, love meant allegiance. As God made a covenant with his people (a formal allegiance between a king and his subjects), he demanded a response. A commitment and a faithful life to that allegiance (i.e., covenant) was the only answer.

Jesus backed up the Shema with another important verse: love of neighbor. This meant allegiance to one’s community. Of course, different groups could interpret this phrase in different ways.

What did love for one’s neighbor mean to the followers of the Nazarene? For the evangelizing Christians, love meant a certain openness to the stranger, the outcast, and the sinner. For many Christians had found themselves with those titles in the past. In addition, it meant caring for those who had no one else to care for them: widows and orphans. Finally, it meant a code of conduct that showed the utmost fidelity to community itself. They clung to each other for survival, for strength, and for growth.

What’s most important? What’s first? With apologies to the late Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, the question can be put another way for the Christian. Who’s on first? Just as that line set up the classic comedy routine, that line sets up our perspective on life. Who’s on first in our life? Is it us or Jesus? If the answer is us, we’re on our own. For, we have put ourselves in God’s place. So there is no room for God or others. If, however, the answer is Jesus, we can rest assured God is helping us to love him with our very being and everyone else as ourselves.

Practice What You Preach

How many parents or teachers haven’t had the experience of seeing their behavior played back to them by children or youth? Last Sunday, my mother was preparing to leave her grand-niece’s home when she simply froze on the top step of the front porch. Ethan, her great-grand nephew who is four, recognized her struggle. He went up the steps and stood with her. “Place your right foot on the next step; Good, now place your left foot next to your right foot. Good! Now, let’s do that again” And he got my mother down the steps! So it is, we know how his mother taught him to use the steps!

This experience of seeing our behavior played back is so true when it comes to language, mannerisms, habits, preferences and prejudices. Sometimes it is young people’s imitation of adult behavior that confronts the adults with the truth about who they are and brings about in them a desire for change.

In our Gospel today, Jesus talks to the crowds and disciples about the failure of the scribes and Pharisees to live up to their preaching. Jesus’ teaching hits home because his own life witnessed so completely to what he preached; he not only taught us to reach out to the poor, but he himself reached out to the marginalized; he not only preached forgiveness, but he himself forgave; he taught love as the greatest commandment, and then loved sinners, children, Gentiles lepers.

Practicing what we preach as Jesus did is not easy. Our Gospel mis saying that we must always keep our eyes on God , doing works out of love for God and others and act with the integrity of Jesus. Our works must reveal that we are disciples of Jesus, the servant of others, recognizing all as our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

Priorities indicate how things are of relative importance to us. The things that are important to us generally have impact on our well being and that of others. This Sunday’s Gospel is about priorities.

The scholar of the law tests Jesus by asking him to prioritize -to identify the greatest law. Had Jesus answered by naming most important one of the 631 numerous precepts so dear to the Pharisees he would have failed the test. Jesus states a clear priority with his answer-there is only one commandment above all others to love God with our whole being. This is the most important thing in our lives and everything else we do is measured against our love for God. And secondly, by loving our neighbor we are l0oving God.

Here lies the surprise of the Gospel, love of God and love of neighbor cannot really be separated for in loving our neighbor we are loving God!

Most of us don’t have great difficulty loving those we know and care about, but what about the neighbor we do not know? We can volunteer at soup kitchens, assist in building homes for the homeless, participate in acts of justice that lead to systemic change. In all of these and countless other ways not only do we love our neighbor, but in these acts we show our love for God. This is our most important priority – to love God in the neighbor we meet every day.