(Sunday XXX OT — A) The Greatest Commandment

The episode of the two greatest commandments is reported to us by Matthew in a context of a disputation in which the hidden intentions of Jesus’ interlocutors are laid bare. Little do the Pharisees know that as they test Jesus, they are being judged. In the question of the scribe we find an academic question: how does one come up with a framework that brings together all 613 precepts of the Law in a simplified way? The expected answer was the Shema. Jesus gives the expected answer but adds a second one, the one that the Pharisees have been neglecting. Read the articles indicated below and use the rest of this page for your guide.

1. Cerezo has a nice illustration of the gospel reading from Matthew 22:34-40. Click on the picture below for a larger view and study it. What do you think is the artist’s understanding of the gospel message?

2. Based on your own understanding of the text of Matthew, how would you answer the following questions

(a) Love God…

The Pharisee could readily understand why Jesus put as the first commandment, Love of God. But in a world — such as the present — where God seems to have become irrelevant, how would you understand “Love … with your whole heart,… soul,… mind?”
(b) Love your neighbor …

We have become accustomed to this commandment that even we sometimes neglect what it means and what it demands. Could you remember other biblical passages that explains this to you and that you have made as your principles of action?
(c) … as yourself.

It is noteworthy that for hundreds of years, this small phrase was never commented on Except in the case of Augustine who makes a note that we are not commanded to love ourselves because we already know instinctively how to do that.. In our century, however, we find popular psychology (e.g. Ophrah and the like) making such an issue of it. The song “The Greatest Love of All” is actually about love of self. The Lord makes love of self the measure of one’s love for the neighbor. He is saying that in the same way as you love yourself, you must love the other too. How much do you love yourself? Make a list of the good things you want others do to you. Make as many as you can. After completing your list, check which you have been doing or are about to do for another.

3. Benedict XVI has written an encyclical called “Deus caritas est” where he writes

Love of neighbour … consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbour which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its real- ism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). (DCE, no. 18)

Meditate on these words and ask yourself: is the love that I have been showing to others measure up to the love that is proclaimed in the Gospels? In what way?

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