When the Pharisees heard how Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. One of them, a teacher of the Law, tried to test him with this question, «Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law?». Jesus answered, «‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and the most important of the commandments. But after this there is another one very similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. The whole Law and the Prophets are founded on these two commandments» (Matthew 22:34-40).
What do we understand from Jesus’ answer recorded in today’s gospel passage? I think it is imperative to initially examine each of the three indispensable messages independently.
The first one “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” seems to be rather self explanatory. We are commanded to love God above all else. It does not mean that we come to church on Sunday and say we love the Lord, and then the rest of the week we live as if we do not even know who God is. It does not mean that we wait until we are in trouble or sick or have a life altering problem to be in relationship with God. To love the Lord with all one’s heart, with all of one’s soul and with all of one’s mind means that there is no part of our life that is segregated from or more important than our love of God.
The second one that Jesus gave us is the commandment that either causes the greatest struggle or is simply ignored. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment is similar to a restatement of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On the surface, loving one’s neighbor as oneself would seem an easy thing to do. If we want to be treated good, then we treat others good. If we want to be treated with respect, then we treat others respectfully. If we want to be treated with kindness, then we treat others kindly. Although similar, the essence of this commandment differs somewhat from the Golden Rule. Whereas the Golden Rule speaks of general respect for oneself and others, this commandment speaks specifically of love. It speaks of loving other people in the same way that a person loves oneself. This is very difficult because many people cannot truly love someone else because we do not love ourselves. So unless one loves God above all else and one loves oneself, it is impossible to live according to these two essential commandments.
And the third and final indispensable teaching in this gospel passage is “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The succinct summation of our entire faith rests on loving God with everything we are and have and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. These words of Jesus make it impossible for me to understand and reconcile how a disciple of Christ can justify judging and excluding any person or group of people from the Church or how anyone can consider any person or group of people inferior to another. Such actions and view points fail to embody the love of God and neighbor Jesus commands in today’s holy gospel, for if a person truly loves one’s neighbor, then the person loves indiscriminate of gender, race, socio-economic status, intelligence, sexual orientation, or any other identity criteria. If one professes to love God and self, then one is commanded by the scriptures to love every person without condition or qualification, just as much as one loves oneself. It is for this reason that the Church must cease being mired in irrelevant dogmatic canons and antiquated moral codes and affirm these two commandments as the foundation of faith.
Jesus affirmed love in action by washing the disciples’ feet and in word by giving us a new commandment to love each other as God unconditionally loves us. Jesus did not die so we can be judgmental and exclusionary towards each other; rather, Jesus gave His life out of unconditional love for us. Jesus gave us these commandments for a reason. In hopes that by following these commandments, “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” we would be able to be children worthy of His ultimate sacrifice.
“We must cultivate that sacred silence which makes people remember the words of Jesus: ‘See how they love one another.’ How often we find ourselves speaking of the faults of another. How often our conversation is about someone who is not present. Yet see the compassion of Christ toward Judas, the man who received so much love yet betrayed his own master. But the master kept the sacred silence and did not betray Judas. Jesus could have easily spoken in public—as we often do—telling the hidden intentions and deeds of Judas to others. But he didn’t. Instead, he showed mercy and charity. Rather than condemning Judas, he called him his friend.”
— Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Thirsting For God, p. 41