‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31
In answer to the Scribe’s question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”, Jesus quotes two Biblical texts. The first, from Deuteronomy, chapter 6, the famous Shema prayer, which declares God as the only god, the basis for the monotheism of the Jewish people. The second text is from Leviticus 19:18, which tells how one should treat your neighbor.
As far as can be known, Jesus was the first to put these two parts of law together and fuse them into one, love of God – love of neighbor. The scribe was quick to see how they relate with one another, how love is the supreme law, even above ritualistic sacrifices. He recognized that true love is sacrifice of the highest degree. Jesus approves of his understanding.
How can we apply this today? Just as it was in Jesus’ time, there is a tendency to ‘ritualize’ our love of God, to make it be something we do on Sunday, or at assigned times of our prayer. In Jesus’ day, love could easily be set aside for ritual, such as in the response of the Priest and Levite when they pass the wounded traveler on the road; they failed in love, not wanting to risk contaminating themselves from participation in the temple rituals and sacrifices.
For the saints, they understood the second part of Jesus’ law is the way par excellence to love God. Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” During this Lenten season, it is the perfect opportunity to make ‘sacrifices’ of love for God by expressing compassion for our neighbor.
We have only to take to heart this teaching, put it into practice and find ourselves, like the Scribe, not far from the kingdom of God.
May God Bless you.