TEACHER, WHICH IS THE GREAT COMMANDMENT IN THE LAW?
(A biblical reflection on the 30th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 25 October 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:34-40
First Reading: Exodus 22:21-27; Psalms: Psalm 18:2-4,47,51; Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
The Scripture Text
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”(Matthew 22:34-40 RSV)
The Pharisees may not have had evil intentions when asking Jesus the question as to the greatest commandment. But they have done us a good service by getting this crystal clear answer from Him. In this answer He tells us that the person who loves God and neighbor fulfills all her/his obligations, and carries out all the duties that God’s self-revelation in “the law and the prophets” imposes on her/him. God revealed Himself to us in the Old Testament as our Creator and divine benefactor. He had no need of us, since He is infinitely perfect in Himself, but out of His infinite goodness He wished to share His eternal Kingdom of happiness with mankind and so He created us. That we should love such a benefactor and be grateful to Him is not asking much of us; such love should surely be the spontaneous reaction of a rational being, and yet there were and there are many who fail to acknowledge any such obligation.
No Christian, worthy of the name, can ever be among such thoughtless and thankless people. We have greater proofs of God’s love for us than “the law and he prophets” gave to the Israelites. We have the added proofs of God’s infinite interest in us brought to us by the Incarnation. We have been raised to the sublime status of adopted children of God.
Where Christians can, and too often do fail, is in their true love of neighbor. Yet Jesus says that this commandment is like the first. Love of neighbor is an essential part of our obligations toward God. If we fail in this we fail in our love for God, for we refuse to carry out this sacred duty. If we do not recognize our neighbor as our sister or brother we do not recognize God as our Father and we do not love Him. As Saint John puts it: “anyone who says: ‘I love God’ and hates (does not love) his neighbor is a liar” (1 John 3:20).
Let each one of us ask her/himself today how seriously she/he takes this law of fraternal charity and how faithfully she/he carries it out. Not all of us may be able to give material help to a neighbor in need but the poorest of us can spare a kindly word, an encouraging word, for a neighbor weighed down with care and troubles. All of us can pray for a neighbor who needs spiritual and temporal help. Most of us can deny ourselves some unnecessary luxuries in order to give a needed loaf of bread to a hungry fellowman, while those who have an abundance of this world’s goods need not look far afield to find cases and causes worthy of their Christian charity.
Remember that whatever spiritual or material help is given out of true charity to a neighbor in need, is given to God, and whatever is given to God is soundly invested in heaven, and heaven pays handsome dividends.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe on me! Empower me to live the law of love! Apart from You, I am powerless, but with You, I can fulfil the command to love. Make me realize that I cannot love others if I do not love myself first. Open my heart to the passionate love of the Father and help me to come to Him everyday as His child and good disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jakarta, 24 October 2020
A Christian Pilgrim