The Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious law and Theology, says that there are 613 commandments in the Jewish Mitzvot (Book of the Commandments). The commandments are divided into “positive,” things one must do, and negative things that one may not do. Some examples of the 248 positive laws include sanctifying Shabbat and to keep fire always burning on the altar of the burnt offering. Among the 365 negative laws areNot to delay payment of a hired man’s wages and Not to put the word of God to the test.
It makes sense that the Scribe, a teacher of the law, would ask Jesus which one of the laws was the allimportant one.Jesus responded to the question by quoting a verse from the Old Testament in the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4) that says,“You shall love God with all your heart, soul, and might.”Although the Scribe only asked for one, Jesus did not stop there. He continued with another verse taken from the Book of Leviticus that says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (11:42).
Jesus’ response is important because loving God and loving our neighbors are inseparable. One cannot stand without the other. True to what John wrote, if anyone says I love God but hates his brother (or sister) is a liar, for whoever does not love a brother or a sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he/she has not seen (John 4:20).The love of God and love of neighbor is an important commandment. Many sufferings, trials, and unhappiness in our community and our world are caused by the absence of love.
When Jesus says to love your neighbor, it does not only pertain to loving those close to usour friends, family members, or good neighbors. Neighbors include everybody. We must love our neighbors, including our unpleasant neighbors and those that we find difficult to love. The call to love even those that might have hurt us is when the challenge comes in.
But this challenge is easier to address if we love God with all our hearts. Loving God is the foundation of loving our neighbors. We must sustain and nourish our love of God with prayers, meditation, reading of the Scriptures, attending Mass, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation and other sacraments available to us.
It is the grace of God that would lead us to love our neighbors, especially those who might be difficult to love. And if we love God with all our heart and soul, we will not give up the difficulty of working for peace and justice, of being present to those who need us, and of making a sacrifice for the good of all.
The greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor. It is easier to make a sacrifice when there is love. It is easier to follow the rest of the commandments when there is love.
Father Dennis