In today’s Gospel from Mark, one of the scribes approached Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments” (Mk 12:28). This may have been a challenge to Jesus or it may just have been a valid question of one seeking the Truth. Scribes were the experts in the securing and making known the Torah. They could read and write, a skill not only used for protecting and passing on the faith, but also for the daily tasks of commerce and contract writing.
This question of the scribe was one that was asked often by those who sought how best to live out Torah. Not only were there the Ten Commandments, but throughout the Torah, there were 613 prescribed laws! A common debate that was often entered into was which were the most important to follow to be faithful, as well as the minimalist approach, being, which were the most important to be followed so someone could just get by?
Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” With this response, Jesus drew first on Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and then regarding loving your neighbor, Leviticus 19:18. By answering in this way, Jesus stated that when we orient our life in the way that aligns ourselves to who God has created us to be, which is to Love God first, place God at the center instead of ourselves, we can then better love our neighbors and ourselves.
St Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (354-430), echoed Jesus’ “Greatest Commandment” by stating that we can love God and do whatever we want. The order of that statement is aligned to the commandment Jesus gave. God is first. The problem many of us have is that we place ourselves first, and seek to bend God’s will to our own. We look to flip the words to, do what I want and God will love me. True God will love us, but we will not experience his love, for we have disconnected ourselves from our relationship with him.
When we shift our orientation to seeking God first, such that this is our foundational approach to our life, our world opens up. Many of us are wounded by our own sin and the sin of others. We retreat into defensive postures and actualize defense mechanisms to survive. These may be good and necessary in the moment, but the challenge is that if we continue to live in a posture of survival mode, we are merely existing.
God wants us to strive, to be fully alive. His greatest joy is when we become fully alive and flourish, actualizing our vocation and the truth of who we have been created to be. This becomes a reality in our life when we open ourselves to the love of God, when we recognize we need him in our life, that we need him to bring us the healing balm of his love and mercy. Once we begin to experience the love of God we will begin to see ourselves and others, not from our own limited perspectives, but from the greater breadth and depth of how God sees us.
God is reaching out to us in so many ways to tell us that he loves us. He is loving us more than we can ever imagine. We unfortunately, are so turned in on ourselves that we close ourselves off to him. May we recognize the reality that his love is unconditional, it is not based on a feeling or emotion, though we sometimes experience those. God’s love is a deeper experience of willing our good. God loves us as we are, right now, right at this moment. Let us make some time to sit, breathe and experience God loving us. As we slow down enough to receive the love of God, we will begin to see in the course of our day how many ways he reaches out to us.
When I woke up this morning, I looked out the back door and saw a small yellow flower. I had the thought enter my mind of God saying to me, “Good morning, I love you.” God is sharing of himself in so many ways like this. May we be open to receive his love, be open to healing and risking again to reach out to others with the love we have experienced, so to not merely exist, but to begin to be free of that which binds us, so to fly and soar to the heights of joy and fulfillment that God calls us to. We will reach these heights as we love God, love our neighbors as ourselves and let God happen.
Photo: Yellow flower that I woke up to this morning.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, June 7, 2018: