Not only did he ace the Pharisees' test, he started his own "School of Love."
“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
One of the assignments that students find most challenging is condensing a chapter or book into a brief, concise summary. It’s quite difficult to take the words and ideas of another person, reflect on them, discern what is most important in the text, and then present the most important points or themes in your own words. And yet, as teachers and professors can attest, this is an invaluable way of helping students hold on to what is most important for their studies.
In a sense, this is the task that is being presented to Jesus in today’s Gospel.
On this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, our Gospel is a continuation of the passages we have heard over the past two Sundays. Jesus is in conversation with the religious leaders of the Jewish people and they continue to question him, hoping to trip him up by asking for impossible answers.
In this Sunday’s passage, Jesus is asked which of the commandments of the Law is the most important. It’s obviously a trap. If Jesus says that any one commandment is greater than another or, worse yet, implies that some commandments can be dismissed, then they will have him! Another interpretation is offered by Scripture scholar Barbara Reid, who writes, “The Pharisees were trying to see if Jesus could match other famous teachers of the time who could summarize the law. Rabbi Hillel, for example, summed up the commandments thus: ‘What is hateful to you do not do to you neighbor’” (Abiding Word, Year A).
To answer their question, Jesus does exactly what many students today dread: he summarizes the main points of the Law in two clear, concise instructions.
First, bringing together the principles of the first three of the Ten Commandments (which are directed to our relationship with God), he responds by paraphrasing the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9):
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.
But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. After all, there are seven other Commandments addressing how we relate to other people. He continues by paraphrasing a text from the Book of Leviticus (19:18):
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
He’s fulfilled the assignment. He has found a way to articulate the most important values of the Commandments with two very clear statements which are themselves drawn from the Law. And, in the end, as we can see, these are not mutually exclusive commands. Instead, they complement one another. Our love for God is manifested and demonstrated in the way that we love our neighbor.
This sense of connection between our love of God and the way that we love our neighbor is expressed in powerful and vivid language in our First Reading, taken from the Book of Exodus. Here, Moses—speaking as God’s ambassador—is offering a series of instructions that form a sort of commentary on the Ten Commandments. The underlying value in the reading assigned for this Sunday is that we are obliged to treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves and we must protect and value foreigners, widows, and orphans—representing non-people and those on the margins of society—the way we would want our own family members to be treated.
In the end, the Readings assigned to this Sunday form a lesson in the relationship between love and justice. While the love of God always comes first, our response to that love should take us outside of ourselves as we are asked to share with others the love and compassion that we have received from God.
How have you experienced God’s love in your life? What are the signs of that love? How do you demonstrate your love for God?How does your love for God inspire the love and care you have for others? How do the teachings about “aliens,” orphans and widows in the First Reading challenge you be attentive to the needs of others?
Words of Wisdom: “The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place, there will be no questions on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the paragraphs of Justinian. Love will be the whole syllabus.”—Saint Robert Bellarmine