“Moses receiving the Law”
João Zeferino da Costa
34 “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”
This is the fourth of the ‘controversy’ stories. The three Synoptic Gospels diverge more than usual in their versions of this incident.
Luke places it in a different context and appends it to the discussion of the Parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ with the classic exposition of the meaning of ‘neighbour’.
Luke also makes the ‘lawyer’ (a ‘Scribe’ in Mark) state the two commandments in answer to a question of Jesus.
Mark presents the ‘Scribe’ in a favourable light, and Jesus praises his answer.
In Matthew and Luke, however, the questioner is hostile and asks the question to ‘provoke’ Jesus.
In Matthew the questioner speaks as the representative of a conspiracy against Jesus. Matthew, as we have seen repeatedly in the previous controversies, views the Scribes and Pharisees in a far less friendly manner than the other Gospels.
613 248 365 In Rabbinical circles the question posed to Jesus was quite commonplace, and so one would find it hard to understand why it should be considered as a “provocation” to Him. Jesus in fact claimed to be a teacher who could interpret the Law and even restate it.
The Quotations from the Old Testament
Deut. 6:5: This text is part of the Jewish profession of faith (the “Shema”) .
The novelty of Jesus is not in quoting the text of Deuteronomy, but in giving equal importance to the following commandment taken from Lev. 19:18. Thus giving to a ‘light’ commandment the same weight as the far more important one that is contained in the faith statement of Israel. This arrangement of joining the two commandments in a single one is unique and has no parallel in Jewish literature.
Only Matthew contains the phrase about the entire Law and the Prophets “hanging” on these two. By so doing Jesus states that: “Good works have value as acts of the love of God and of one’s neighbour”.
The Oneness of Love
God loves humankind with a divine love, but wo/men can only love God with a human love.
Even if the object of love is different (God or one’s neighbour), there is no distinction about the quality of love we offer either. We can love God just as we can love our neighbour, with the same quality of love.
This explains that the love for God can be as intense as the love we have for another person: a boy/girl-friend, a spouse, a mother or father, a daughter or son, a soul mate or our very selves.
Indeed, the love we are able to offer one another is as human as the love we can have for God. Therefore, Jesus raised our human love to a love divine when He offered his life on the Cross.
“Fratelli Tutti” Nos. 272 and 273
“As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father [Love of God], there can be no solid and stable reason for an appeal to fraternity [Love of neighbour] …”
“If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between peoples. Their self-interest as a class, group or nation would inevitably set them in opposition to one another. If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth [Love of God] then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others [Love of neighbour]. The root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of every human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights that no one may violate -no individual, group, class, nation or state. Not even the majority of the social body may violate these rights, by going against the minority.”
The way to God
All religions over the centuries struggle with the same danger: to create parallel paths to get closer to God through individualistic ways, putting aside other people, the community, “our neighbour”.
One may easily think now, as was common in the past, that we can make our way to God through acts of worship, pilgrimages, offerings in temples or costly sacrifices, without due reference to our vocation as members of a community.
The Prophets in the Old Testament fought this temptation and that is why Jesus says that ‘the whole Law and the Prophets hang’ from the two commandments of Love of God and of one’s neighbour: if we want to follow the path of the Gospel, to reach God we necessarily need to demonstrate love for our neighbour, namely, showing concern for and helping the disadvantaged, the oppressed and the poor, and looking for a just and fair society.
Some say love, it is a river That drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger An endless, aching need. I say love, it is a flower And you, its only seed.
It's the heart afraid of breaking That never learns to dance. It's the dream afraid of waking That never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken Who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying That never learns to live.
And the night has been too lonely And the road has been too long And you think that love is only For the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter Far beneath the bitter snow Lies the seed that with the sun's love In the spring, becomes a rose.
Jesus is a man of priorities, a man of essentials.
Let us not be misled by so many confusing voices around us. Often in our world and society having an opinion about a matter seems to indicate that one has the truth on one’s side: this is my truth. We can easily be misled by so many contradictory ideas spread so quickly through social media. However, the Gospel is based on the simplicity of the commandment to love. Jesus knows how to sieve chaff from grain. When our goal is clear, the way is far easier to discern, too.
Why are football fans so excited and united around a team? Probably because their objective is just one: ‘to win, win and win’. They base their support on opposition to others and the drive to overpower and dominate is certainly based on the basic human instinct of supremacy.
Unlike any other sport or social organization, the clear goal of our Christian faith is the creation of human relationships based on the love of God: we are all children of the same Father and until we are able to behave as such, the entire creation will long in silent groaning.
We contemplate how Jesus, being a man, reveals to us our deepest human identity, and how He makes the first undisputable priority of our lives the love of God and the love of neighbour.
“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. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart”.  “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”.  Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter “Centesimuns annus”, 1991, no. 44  Romans 8: 19-21: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”