Sunday, October 29, 2017
The greatest commandment
To love God is to love one’s neighbour
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
In the Gospel of the 30th Sunday of ordinary time, the Pharisees want to know what Jesus thinks is the greatest commandment of the law. This theme was much discussed among the Jews of those days. It was a regular debate. Today too, people wish to know what defines a person as a good Christian. Some say that this consists in being baptized, praying and going to Mass on Sunday. Others say it consists in practising justice and living out fraternity. Each has his or her opinion. According to you, what is the most important thing in religion and in the life of the Church? When reading this text try to pay great attention to the way Jesus answers the question.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together 35 and, to put him to the test, one of them put a further question, 36 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?' 37 Jesus said to him, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first command-ment. 39 The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you like most in this text or what touched you most? Why?
b) Who were the Pharisees then? Who are the Pharisees today?
c) How could the question asked of Jesus by the Pharisees put him to the test?
d) What is the relationship between the first and the second commandment?
e) Why is it that the love of God and the love of neighbour constitute a summary of the law and the prophets?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context of this text as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew:
This is one of the many discussions Jesus had with the religious authorities of that time. This time it was with the Pharisees. First, the Pharisees had tried to discredit Jesus with the people by spreading calumnies about him saying that he was possessed by devils with which he drove out Beelzebub (Mt 12:24). Now, in Jerusalem, they enter once more into a discussion with Jesus concerning the interpretation of the law of God.
b) A commentary on the text:
Matthew 22:34-36: A question put by the Pharisees
First, to put Jesus to the test, the Sadducees had asked him about belief in the resurrection and were firmly put down by Jesus (Mt 22:23-33). Now the Pharisees come to the fore. The Pharisees and Sadducees were enemies, but they become friends in criticising Jesus. The Pharisees come together and one of them represents them by asking for a clarification: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?" In those days, the Jews had a huge number of norms, customs and laws, great and small, to regulate the observance of the Ten Commandments. One point concerning two commandments of the law of God was a matter of great discussion among the Pharisees. Some said: "All the laws, great or small, have equal value because they all come from God. We cannot make distinctions in matters concerning God". Others said: "Some laws are more important than others and thus they deserve greater observance!" The Pharisees want to know where Jesus stands in this debate.
Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus’ reply.
Jesus replies by quoting some words from the Bible: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind!" (cfr Dt 6:4-5). In Jesus’ days, pious Jews recited this phrase three times a day, morning, noon and night. It was a well-known prayer among them as the Our Father is for us today. And Jesus goes on quoting the Old Testament: "This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18). And he concludes: "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets too". In other words, this is the way to God and the neighbour. There is no other. The greatest temptation of human beings is that of trying to separate these two loves, because in this way the poverty of others would not discomfort their consciences.
c) A deepening:
The word “Pharisees” means “separate” because their rigid way of observing the Law of God separated them from others. Among themselves they called each other companions because they formed a community whose ideal was that of observing absolutely the norms and all the commandments of the law of God. The way of life of most of them was a witness to the people because they lived by their labour and dedicated many hours every day to study and meditation on the law of God. But there was something very negative: they sought their safety not in God but in the rigorous observance of the Law of God. They trusted more in what they did for God than in what God did for them. They had lost the notion of gratuity, which is the source and fruit of love. Before such a false attitude towards God, Jesus reacts firmly and insists on the practice of love that makes the observance of the law and of its true meaning relative. In an age of change and uncertainty, such as now, the same temptation reappears, that of seeking safety before God, not in the goodness of God towards us, but in the rigorous observance of the Law. If we succumb to such a temptation, then we deserve the same censure from Jesus.
ii) A parallel between Mark and Matthew:
In the Gospel of Mark, it is a doctor of the law who asks the question (Mk 12:32-33). After listening to Jesus’ reply, the doctor agrees with Him and draws the following conclusion: "Yes, to love God and the neighbour is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice". Or else, the commandment of love is the most important among all the commandments concerned with cult and sacrifices of the Temple and with external observances. This statement already existed in the Old Testament from the time of the prophet Hosea (Hos 6:6; Ps 40:6-8; Ps 51:16-17). Today we would say that the practice of love is more important than novenas, promises, fasts, prayers and processions. Jesus approves of the conclusion reached by the doctor of the law and says: "You are not far from the Kingdom"! The Kingdom of God consists of this: acknowledging that the love of God is equal to the love of neighbour. We cannot reach God without giving ourselves to the neighbour!
iii) The greatest commandment:
The greatest commandment and the first is this: "You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mk 12:30; Mt 22:37). In so far as the people of God, throughout the centuries, understood the meaning of this love, to that extent did they become aware that the love of God is real and true only if it is made concrete in the love of neighbour. That is why the second commandment resembles the first (Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31). "Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar" (1Jn 4:20). "On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also" (Mt 22:40). Because of this identification of the two loves, there has been an evolution in three phases:
1st Phase: "Neighbour", is the relative of the same race
The Old Testament already taught that we must "love our neighbour as ourselves!" (Lv 19:18). But then, the word neighbour was synonymous with relative. They felt obliged to love all those who were part of the same family, the same clan, the same people. As for strangers, that is, those who did not belong to the Jewish people, the book of Deuteronomy says: “From a foreigner you may exact payment, but you must remit whatever claim you have on your brother (relative, neighbour)!" (Dt 15:3).
2nd Phase: "Neighbour" is the one I approach or who approaches me
The concept of neighbour is broadened. In Jesus’ time, there was a whole discussion as to “who is my neighbour?” Some doctors of the law thought the concept of neighbour had to be extended beyond the limits of race. Others would not hear of this. So a doctor turns to Jesus and asks this vexed question: "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), where the neighbour is neither the relative nor the friend, but all those who approach us, irrespective of religion, colour, race, gender or language! You must love him!
3rd Phase: The measure of our love for the “neighbour” is the love with which Jesus loves us
Jesus had said to the doctor of the law: "You are not far from the Kingdom!" (Mk 12:34). The doctor was already close, because in fact, the Kingdom consists in uniting the love of God with the love of neighbour, as the doctor had solemnly declared before Jesus (Mk 12:33). But to enter the Kingdom he had to take one more step. In the Old Testament, the criterion of love for neighbour was the following: "love your neighbour as yourself". Jesus stretches the criterion further and says: "This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you! A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends!" (Jn 15:12-13). Now, in the New Testament, the criterion is: "Love your neighbour as Jesus loved us!". Jesus interpreted the exact meaning of the Word of God and showed us the way to a more just and fraternal way of life.
6. Psalm 62
In God alone there is rest for my soul
In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from him comes my safety;
he alone is my rock, my safety,
my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.
How much longer will you set on a victim,
all together, intent on murder,
like a rampart already leaning over,
a wall already damaged?
Trickery is their only plan,
deception their only pleasure,
with lies on their lips they pronounce a blessing,
with a curse in their hearts.
Rest in God alone, my soul!
He is the source of my hope.
He alone is my rock, my safety, my stronghold,
so that I stand unwavering.
In God is my safety and my glory,
the rock of my strength.
In God is my refuge;
trust in him, you people, at all times.
Pour out your hearts to him,
God is a refuge for us.
Ordinary people are a mere puff of wind,
important people a delusion;
set both on the scales together,
and they are lighter than a puff of wind.
Put no trust in extortion,
no empty hopes in robbery;
however much wealth may multiply,
do not set your heart on it.
Once God has spoken,
twice have I heard this:
Strength belongs to God,
to you, Lord, faithful love;
and you repay everyone as their deeds deserve.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.