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 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 the 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 lives 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. It is true that God will love us, but we will not experience his love, for when we place ourselves first we will have disconnected ourselves from our relationship with him.
When we shift our orientation to seeking God first, such that he is the foundation of 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 at 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 by actualizing our vocation and the truth of who we have been created to be. This becomes a reality when we recognize our need for and open ourselves up to receive God’s love. When we do so, we can then receive his healing balm of forgiveness, love, and mercy. Once we begin to experience each we will begin to see ourselves and others, not from our own limited perspectives where we can slip into defensive postures that may feed our biases and prejudices, but from the greater breadth and depth of how God sees us as his children, made in his image.
God reaches out to us in so many ways to tell us that he loves us more than we can ever imagine. Unfortunately, when we are diverted and distracted by other false pursuits apart from his will we limit our experience of this love. Yet, God’s love for us remains unconditional. God loves us as we are, right now, right at this moment. We just need to take some time to sit, breathe, and be willing to accept the gift of being loved for who we are as well as embrace the fullness of who he has created us to be as mental, physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual human beings. We need to resist repressing any aspect of who we are and allow God access to all aspects of ourselves, so as to become more whole and more alive.
Through embracing God’s healing forgiveness, love and mercy and being engaged in the fullness of our humanity, we can begin to relax our defensive postures. We can become advocates for healing the division, dehumanization, and polarization in our realm of influence in person and online. By not being limited by our biases and prejudices and refusing to project blame and/or shame on others we can be more open to encounter and accompany one another as human beings, and then better be able to experience our differences not as obstacles but gifts for our mutual growth.
Photo: We are all called to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors as ourselves by willing each other’s good!