The religious leaders approach Jesus with a question designed to trap him; “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” This is another way of asking ‘what’s this God thing all about? What’s the most important thing, the bottom line?’
How would you answer it?
Most of us have already asked and answered this question without putting it into words. It’s been a part of our self-talk, part of the conversation we have with ourselves at some point.
Nowadays most people don’t even ask the question partly because the culture has already answered it and the answer is now an unquestioned cultural assumption – if we just love one another; that’s what’s important. There are many variations of it. You’ll often hear it articulated and summarized perfectly as ‘they don’t go to Mass but they’re good people’ or the more theological astute might attempt to say ‘I love God by loving my neighbour’
We’ve flattened the Christian message to just one commandment – variations of “love your neighbour” (but usually without “as yourself” – the inclusion of “as yourself” makes the commandment much more demanding). In flattening the message almost exclusively to “love your neighbour”, God and the love of God has been squeezed out and consequently the church and the sacraments are considered by many to be irrelevant.
When Jesus is asked the question he answers it with great care, it’s detailed, largely because it’s a trick question.
There are two commandments and they can’t be flattened into one. The second “resembles” the first but it’s not identical.
The first is to love God (corresponding to the first 3 commandments which are about loving God). The second is to love your neighbour (corresponding to the other 7 commandments which are about loving God and neighbour). It’s significant that Jesus very deliberately retains the original order in his summary.
“On these two commandments” stands the whole mystery of God.
Two wings are required to fly you into the kingdom of God. Try it on one wing and you’ll surely fall out of the sky – that’s if you can get off the ground at all!
God deserves to be loved in his own right. This is where the deep inner joy comes from; this is the source, the foundation. The absence of this explains so much.
I’d never say I love my mother by loving my sister and then forget about my mother! We shouldn’t do it with God either.