EXODUS 22:20-26 | 1 THESSALONIANS 1:5C-10 | MATTHEW 22:34-40
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, will all your soul, and with all your strength.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countryman. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In the gospel passage today we see Jesus being tested by a group of Pharisees. They asked him which commandment in the law was the greatest. There were 613 to choose from. Jesus picked the two I quoted before I began this reflection.
Quick question. Why didn’t he pick one of the major ten? Because most of them are juridical: it’s a crime to steal, to kill, to perjure oneself.
Jesus picked the commandments that govern the heart. They’re not as easy as not killing or not stealing. They’re commandments that challenge us to change – over and over again.
The commandment from the book of Deuteronomy is called the schema. It’s a creed, the foundation of the Jewish faith. It’s recited at the daily morning and evening prayer. It’s a challenge to love God completely, holding nothing back, loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. Twice a day this commandment challenges our hearts.
The second commandment from the book of Leviticus is an even greater challenge. Love your neighbor as yourself. This commandment is difficult on two levels. Don’t hold a grudge or lust for revenge. Love your neighbor instead. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is the second challenge in this commandment, to truly love yourself. The more we love ourselves, forgive ourselves, nurture ourselves, the more we’ll be able to love our neighbor.
These commands are truly challenging but Jesus doesn’t stop there. He added a new commandment at the last supper he ate with his disciples. “Love one another as I love you. There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” He added, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-13)
Jesus added a new and radical ingredient to the two greatest of the laws. He called his disciples to lay down their lives for their friends. He added sacrificial love.
Saint Paul spoke of this love in his letter to the Christian community in Philippi. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. And found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus’ answer to the religious leaders’ “trick question” was just the beginning of a truly profound call to love: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. Then prove that love by pouring your life out in the service of others.
The cross we hang in our churches and in homes, or wear around our necks is a reminder, and an invitation, to love one another as he loved us. The heart is the road to the Kingdom of God.