The greatest commandment

Published October 24, 2020, 9:16 PM

by Manila Bulletin

MATTHEW 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Opening to God’s unconditional love

The Sadducees lost earlier to Jesus in their debate regarding the resurrection of the dead. In a clear attempt at grandstanding, the Pharisees take their turn to prove their intellectual superiority as they argue with Jesus on a raging topic that had been the staple of debates for centuries. Which among the commandments is the greatest?

Teachers in rabbinical schools distinguish between light and heavy commandments. Jesus himself refers to “weightier” commandments.

In reply, Jesus does not pick from any of the Ten Commandments. He knows that if he does, he will open a floodgate of debates. Instead, Jesus points out a scriptural text from Dt 6:5 that speaks about loving God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

This passage is familiar to the Jews since it serves as their prayer mantra. It reminds them of their spiritual heritage as the Chosen People and their responsibility towards God. It is a prayer taught even to little children, and a prayer offered to God at different times during the day.

What surprises everyone is that Jesus suddenly mentions another passage — Lv 19:18 — that zeroes in on loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The wisdom of Jesus lies in that he links the commandment to love God and the commandment to love one’s neighbor and presents them as one single commandment. If a person truly loves God, then the person will not violate any of God’s commandments and will pursue to follow God’s teachings. Moreover, the person who truly loves God will not injure his or her fellow human beings but will strive to love them with the love of the Lord.

To love God and to love one’s neighbor is not the result of any method. It comes from the realization that it is God who loved us in the past and who continues to love us today. Once we experience and appreciate God’s love for us, we realize that it is the gratuitous kind of love that Jesus is teaching us to give to God and to our neighbors. God simply loves us without expecting anything in return. God’s love is not based on any qualification we think we can boast of. God’s love — selfless and unconditional — is the kind of love we can learn to accept and give back in return.

SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2020,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: