No.16 Love thy neighbour
‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’
In answer, Jesus brought into unity two key passages of the Old Testament, namely Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18, and gave the world what many refer to as the Great Commandment, which indeed it is:
‘You must 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 resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.’ (Matthew 22: 36 – 40. NJB)
Most of us can relate to the second, even though we know that we have far to go in relation to living up to it. Altruism and our shared humanity make us realise that this commandment is worth striving for, even in moderation.
We know too that there are many, many ways in which people love or endeavour to love their neighbour, as we see these all the time. And we also know how that the meaning of the term “neighbour” can and should be widened.
(It would indeed be worth spending some quiet time thinking about this and trying to spell it out.)
We also bear in mind other words of Jesus: ‘My command to you is to love one another. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:12-13.) He has also said that many sins are forgiven those who love much: ‘For this reason I tell you that her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven her, because she has shown such great love. It is someone who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ (Luke 7: 47.)
Not surprisingly, many of us assume that the second is the equivalent of the first, and that observing it to the best of our ability or according to our circumstances is enough. But is it? What do you think? Why?
The Inseparable Two
So, we may ask once again: Is the second part of the Great Commandment the equivalent of the first? If so, why did Jesus declare ‘You must 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?’ And what are the implications of the Lord’s insistence?
Is not putting the greatest and first commandment in its rightful place, like switching on floodlights that illuminate the second, and make visible areas of even greater need for love? Does it not help us to recognise
that not only is everyone our neighbour, however near or far they may be from us, but they, like us, are beloved by God, are called to be His children and have an eternal destiny that has to be realised in God;
that we are responsible for them and their spiritual wellbeing and salvation too; that we are called to love these our neighbours, who are sons and daughters of God, in justice, prayer and peace;
that we should not exploit or sexploit their weaknesses for profit, selfishness, through our indifference or negligence, in our thoughts and designs, or by our words, deeds, actions, example or dress.
In loving God above all else do we have the right to condone the wrong they do and give the green light to paths they follow that lead away from God, His Church and His wishes for them?
Too tough? Put all this into the too hard basket? Forget its revolutionary implications for our political, social, economic and educational (including our religious and Catholic educational) institutions? Be satisfied with a more comfortable, more minimalist and less radical approach to the Great Commandment? Ask Jesus.
Lord, teach us thy ways. Thy will be done. Lord, that we may see. Lord, that we may hear. Lord, that we may talk. Lord, that we may walk. All this, by your grace. All this, in your love. Have mercy on us, Lord. Though we are weak, Thou art strong. In you, do we trust.