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Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dt 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28-34

November 4, 2012

The Great Commandment


Every morning when I wake up, I make a list of things I need to do that day. The list begins with the most urgent item that I need to accomplish. When you have a lot on your plate, you have to learn to prioritize by doing what is most important. Today's readings from Scripture invite us to rededicate ourselves to a total commitment to love God and neighbors as a top priority in our life.


In today's Gospel reading, a scribe wanted to know the most important commandment of the Law. Since there were as many as 613 commandments found in the Torah, he asked Jesus, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus cited the familiar prayer of Sh'ma Yisrael or "Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!" All faithful Jews understood the importance of this prayer found in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is read in today's first reading, and would agree to the value and necessity of wholehearted and unreserved love of the one God. Every pious Jew recited this prayer in the morning and evening. Devout Jews even wore this prayer in the phylacteries or prayer boxes affixed to their wrists and foreheads to constantly remind them of the great law. The Sh'ma was contained in the mezuzah mounted on the doorframe of every good Jewish home. Jesus, however, went further than the ordinary expectation by citing an obscure passage in Leviticus 19:18, namely, to love the neighbor as oneself. Interestingly, Jesus took two laws and made them equal and interdependent by merging them into one great commandment. Consequently, Jesus invited the scribe, who was a professional interpreter of the law, to move beyond the legal aspects of the law and to open his heart to understand that the love of one's neighbor was as important as worshiping God.


Jesus' Great Commandment, to love God with one's whole being and to love the neighbor as oneself, is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. However, each of the Gospels records this teaching in a different context and addresses a different audience. In Matthew, as in Mark, Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem, but in Matthew, a Pharisee asked Jesus, for he was out to test Jesus (Matt 22:34-40). In Luke, while Jesus was teaching in Galilee, a lawyer confronted Jesus and demanded to know the greatest commandment. Here, Jesus did not give the answer but asked the man to say what he believed. The man answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). Jesus complimented the man's good response. Noticeably, in the Gospel of John, Jesus gave only one commandment: "Love one another as I love you" (John 15:12).


The Scripture readings this Sunday conveniently summarize the basic tenet of the Law. To love God with one's whole being and to love the neighbor as oneself is more important than any sacrificial offering. Fulfilling this Great Commandment is what makes a person truly holy. The saints, whose lives we celebrate this week, were completely committed to loving and serving God as well as their neighbors. If we follow their examples, we too will not be "far from the kingdom of God."


vanThanh Nguyen, SVD, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies


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