During the time of Jesus, with so many laws being imposed by the religious leaders on the people, the question as to which commandment is the greatest was a very tricky question. Even the Pharisees and the Sadducees can’t agree on the answer, such that in order to trap him, a scholar of the law, a Pharisee; took it as an opportunity to ask Jesus the question:
“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.” (Mt. 22: 34-40)
If the Lord had answered differently, He would have taken sides for one group against the other. Jesus’ answer however, goes beyond this argument into a real life spent loving God and neighbor (in the same manner as loving one’s self). Also, He emphasizes that knowing the answer without living it is not enough and is not the way to holiness and obedience to God.
But can we love God without loving our neighbor?
In the Old Testament it was revealed that Israel knew that one cannot love God without loving other people, as they are created in His image and likeness. The love of God is to be manifested in love of neighbor. The neighbor in this context is a fellow Jew (Lv 19: 17-18), which Jesus abolished, in effect breaking down the shortsightedness and many other misunderstandings at that time. He defined neighbor as those who are in need (Lk. 10: 29-35). He emphasizes that love of God is foremost, but loving one’s neighbor has to be done as well for it to be real. One cannot be separated from the other. You cannot just say long prayers, hear Masses, and recite novenas without doing something for the poor and the needy in the community. Many of us feel comfortable with prayers only, while doing nothing for the last, the least and the lost.
Loving God therefore starts with letting Him fill our hearts and letting Him love us. Building a relationship with Him to allow Him to fill our thoughts, our hearts and our soul. In so doing, we will get out of our comfort zones, do the things we don’t even feel comfortable doing, but because of our love for Him, we will eagerly do.
Let us pray for the grace of knowing and thinking like Christ, and that we may be able to see God in others and acknowledge that we can’t love God genuinely without obeying the second commandment.
“I love you, Lord, my strength.” (Ps. 18: 2)