Last week we have seen how Jesus outweighed the wisdom and the wit of His opponents in answering the question about the payment of taxes. The Sadducees were silenced again in response to their hypothetical question. They had a question of whose wife will she be after having married by the seven brothers. Today some of the scholars of the law led by the Pharisees approached Jesus with another question: “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Unlike other encounters, there is not necessarily any malice in this approach. As a Rabbi, influential with the crowds and known by many as someone with a mind of his own, they wanted to know Jesus’ opinion.
In answering the question about the most important commandment in the law, Jesus focuses equally on the two commandments, namely loving God with one’s whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and whole strength and loving one’s neighbor as one’s own self. For Jesus, these two commandments are inseparably related to each other. Love of God and love of the neighbor are two aspects of the same love, not two different kinds of love. They complement each other. Absence of the love of the neighbor means absence of the love of God too.
A way of life: These “commands” to love God and those around us are not really commands. Love is not love unless it is free and spontaneous. What Jesus proposes are not just commands or rules but a whole approach to life and to our relationship with others. There is only one “commandment” consisting of two inseparable parts. The key word is “love” but there are really three loves involved: love of God, love of others and love of self. Ultimately, love of God, the source of all being and life, comes first. Then comes, as a natural outcome, love for all those in whom God dwells and whom God creates. Because they are the objects of his love, they must also be the objects of mine. Lastly, there is the love of self. I also am worthy of being loved.
Here we find the answer to a very natural question: How can you love God whom you have not seen, heard or touched? How can you relate yourself to God who is in his heavenly abode, far away from the world? Jesus bridges the apparent gap between God and the world through the commandment of love. St. John would say that it is by loving and serving others that we come to the knowledge of God. He has written in his letter: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7). Loving one another is the way to God, because God is the source of love.
Jesus has already forewarned that on the day of the Final Judgment the divine verdict will be based on the acts of charity, rendered to the poor, naked, homeless and the sick. When you do something for the poor out of love, you are doing it for God himself. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me (Mt 25:35-36).
Charity, love of the neighbor is, therefore, the characteristic mark of Christian spirituality. It is neither the cross you wear nor the creed you recite that determines your identity as a Christian, but love and service you render to others. St. James emphasizes on charitable works as inevitable to keep one’s faith alive and fruitful (Jam 2:14-18). Faith, which is not proven by acts of love is dead. How can you be a believer of God, if you have no mercy towards a hungry person? St. James does not mince his words, when he speaks of charity to the poor.
By pointing out the inseparable relationship between love of the neighbor and the love of God, Jesus raises a great challenge to our conscience. It is the challenge to recognize God’s face in humanity, even in its most miserable conditions, in poverty, sickness and oppression. It is consistent with the Incarnation in which God took the form of a human being in Jesus Christ. He became a servant and took on himself the tragic fate of humanity, until he restored it and revealed in it the divine Glory.
The constant temptation to separate the love of God from the love of the neighbor has done great harm to peace and harmony in the world. With this teaching of love Jesus touches this most serious problem, which concerns all religions, which claim to have a monopoly of God. When any religion claims God as its monopoly, it reduces God to an idol. It is the negation of the immensity and the universality of God. They extol obedience to the law and thereby forget the heart of the law.
This was the case with many critics of Jesus. Jesus has specifically warned them of their folly: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Mt 23:25-26).
Jesus’s interpretation of the greatest commandment challenges our tendency to make our own gods and fitting them into our mental molds. These mental molds are characterized; by absolutism, fundamentalism, intolerance, hatred, fear, selfish interests and power craze. The fundamentalists are prone to misuse God’s name for intimidating, oppressing and enslaving. These tendencies constitute the profile of a false god or an idol.
All idol worshippers will be destroyed. Idol worshippers are those who oppress the poor and the weak. Idols are the instruments of oppression. As described in the Book of Exodus, God’s anger will fall on those who afflict the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. If they cry out to God in their affliction, God will heed to their cry. This is a warning to all who perpetrate injustice in the form of merciless structures of subjugation and oppression in the name of God.
Religious faith should liberate human minds. Jesus offers us in his teaching of love true freedom of the children of God. He offers us the courage to break the molds of our fixed concepts in which we limit the infinite love of God. Let the love and mercy of God flow into the hearts of all. As true believers we can be channels of his infinite peace and goodness. Let us love God in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:8).