THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Love God with your Whole Heart and Also Love your Neighbor
First Reading (Deut 6:2-6): Love God with your whole heart, soul and might
Second Reading (Heb 7:23-28) Christ is the eternal High Priest
Gospel: (Mk 12: 28-34) The greatest commandment
-“Stand firm to inherit the gift from the Heavens above. Use the inheritance from the Heavens to do good for mankind.” (1)
“One of the scribes came near and asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and 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.” (Mk 12: 28-31)
One of the Scribes asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the first?’ According to Matthew's Gospel (22:35), the phrase the ‘first commandment’ referred to the ‘greatest commandment.’ Jesus’ quoted the Book of Deuteronomy (6: 4-5) in answer: .”Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6: 4-5) But Jesus immediately added another commandment, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The person asked for only ONE commandment but Jesus replied with TWO. In his mind the one commandment had two aspects. Or one could say the single commandment has two layers.
In all religions of the world, the ‘Great Spirit’ is the focus of concern. Judaism especially emphasizes the uniqueness and exclusiveness of God. No parallel whatsoever can be drawn between God and human beings, or between loving God and loving humans or other creatures!
Therefore in the Old Testament, to worship God Abraham could sacrifice his son; and throughout the Old Testament many stories relate how God helped the Jewish people to kill the Gentiles. Sometimes this even led to genocide or the massacre of an entire city.
Actually there should be nothing wrong in this because God is the Supreme Creator, the great and incomparable True Spirit and the Source of all Life. God has power to bestow life and power to take it away. Life itself exists for God alone.
The mental image the Jews had of God was that God was the highest and most venerable Supreme Being. God was Judge and Master with supreme power over life and death, reward and punishment. Therefore when one was in God's presence, a person must cover one's face, remove one's shoes, kneel down and not gaze upon the face of God. If one but touched the holy Ark of the Covenant inadvertently that person had committed the greatest offence and the penalty was death.
For many centuries God and God's religion was described in this way, as cruel and distant from human beings. Children on hearing this would even have nightmares! In the Old Testament the image of God sometimes was of a God only of Abraham or the family and tribe of Israel. Sometimes God was even only a God of war.
Jesus was determined to end this kind of belief in God based on fear. He wanted to tell us that God is a God full of love who invites us to love Him in return. Such a God does not stand in opposition to humankind. We are in God and so we can love other persons more deeply, and by loving others we can love God more earnestly.
The love we human beings have for God is not separate or detached from our ordinary lives. On the contrary, if we do not live according to God's will and heed God's command to love others, even if we call out daily, ‘Lord, Lord’, we will not be able to attain salvation.
Jesus described this two-in-one or one-in-two commandment as the greatest commandment: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” All else is under this commandment of love. This two-level commandment is the ultimate goal of all the other commandments; the others are secondary or only for leading to that ultimate goal. Or this is the ‘whole,’ the others are the ‘parts.’ We first draw up an outline according to the ultimate goal and then list the details to attain that goal; when we have fulfilled the demands of the ultimate goal, the details naturally fall into place.
But Jesus' words are not always observed by all his followers. Religion can at times become inhuman; we human beings sometimes act as if to love God and at the same time to love one's neighbor are opposed to each other. For example, to wage a ‘religious war’ in the name of God certainly should never be countenanced by a church that preaches love of God and love of neighbor. Yet this has occurred many times throughout history.
In the religions of the Chinese people, the focus is on human beings. Even in those religions that emphasize belief and worship of a Supreme Being, or talk about the spiritual realm or a future life, this is in order to help people lead good lives in this world and face the challenges of the present life in a positive manner .
The spirit of Chinese religions is this: “Stand firm to inherit the gifts from the Heavens above. Use the inheritance from the Heavens to do good for mankind.” (1) This means that while we look up to the heavens we should wholeheartedly live in the concrete world today and follow the will of Heaven to work for the well-being of humankind.
In actuality to “love God and love your neighbor” is the best footnote to Jesus' words, and is the clearest manifestation of Christian Life.