“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 22:37-40).
The scholar of the law who asked Jesus to share with him which commandment of the law is the greatest was a common question among Jews for they had 613 laws! Following these laws was how one showed faithfulness to God. Discussing which were the most important and which were those of lesser rank as well as the practicality of learning and practicing all 613 presented quite a challenge. How do we do with just following the Ten Commandments today? Could we even recite the Ten?
The scholar brought Jesus into this debate. Jesus’ response, that we call today the Great Commandment, was a masterful synthesis of the Torah, the Law, or the Teachings. He drew from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which was the beginning of the Shema, the prayer that Jews offered each morning and each evening while facing the Temple that stated: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added to it Leviticus 19:18: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
As we witness time and again with Jesus, he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (cf. Mt 5:17). Jesus sought to help people to come to know his Father who he knew so intimately, who he loved so fully. Though the Great Commandment sounds simple enough, and it is, it demands our whole self, our full commitment to be contemplatives in action. We are called to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. That means all of us, physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. We are to recognize that God is actively engaged in all of what we do and who we are in every aspect of our self-identity and integrity.
Our lives will be richer and more fulfilled once we embrace, once we open ourselves up to this reality, and resist the temptation to compartmentalize our time with God. Saying we are only with God on Sunday while in the sanctuary of the Church but leaving him there in the tabernacle is not loving God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. Stepping into the parking lot becomes like a time warp in which we go back into secular apparent reality, where in the first instant of encounter with our neighbor cutting us off with their car, our hand gesture is most likely not a blessing in the form of the sign of the cross.
If we can turn on a dime so quickly, have we really worshipped at all? Are we living our lives more as Pope Francis calls, “defeated Christians”? Are we just going through the motions of our faith, showing up but our heart, soul, and mind aren’t fully engaged? Pope Francis shares that “the one who confesses the faith well, the whole faith, has the ability to worship, to worship God” (Francis, 292).
We become Christians, contemplatives in action when we give our all as did St. Francis of Assisi who would often pray this simple prayer “My God and my all”. He gave himself in love, all of who he was to God. He encountered the God of Jesus Christ who is Love, received his loving embrace, and went forth to share that love with others. This is called the Greatest Commandment not one of the Greatest Commandments, because loving God and neighbor is one and the same act.
May we embrace the gift of who God is for us, not just as the one who created us and went away to do whatever God does, that is deism. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of relationship grounded in unconditional love, the one who is present with us always, in all the practical and mundane we do, and in everyone we meet. Through this embrace of God and his love and going out from ourselves to will the good of the other, the better we will be able to heal from our wounds of prejudice, bigotry, selfishness, pride, greed, lust, fear, and anxiety.
Our very life is a blessing, a gift, to be thankful to God for and to share and bless others with. May each thought we entertain, each word we speak, each action we take, each facial gesture we express, be one of encouragement, of support, of empowerment, and of love. Dedicating ourselves to following the Great Commandment means that we are to approach our life one day at a time renewing our commitment to love God and neighbor a little bit better today than yesterday. To aid us in our trust and conviction, let us pray often the prayer of St. Francis, “My God and my all”.
Photo: Replica of the San Damiano Cross that I have had since my novitiate year while with the Franciscans. When St. Francis was praying before the original he felt the call by God to rebuild his Church.
Pope Francis. Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday. NY: Image, 2015