The Commandment to Love
One of the scribes came near and heard Jesus and the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and 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.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, a scribe asks Jesus which, among the six hundred plus commandments in the Jewish law, was first having priority over the others. And Jesus promptly points out and summarizes all these into two. He combines the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer from Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” with its complementary law from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus first teaches us that the greatest of all commandments is to love God with our whole being because God is the foundation and source of love. As we are reminded in 1 John 4:19, “We love because God loved us first.” It is only by loving God that we truly learn how to love. Immediately Jesus follows it up with loving your neighbor as yourself because once we put God at the center of our love, we learn how it is to genuinely do the same for our neighbors.
Loving one’s neighbor is simply the natural and necessary extension of true, wholehearted love for God, because our neighbor is made in the image of God. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves means that we should care for others in the same way that we would care for ourselves. It means acting with compassion.
We should be a companion to those who are lonely with the same eagerness that we seek companionship when we are lonely. We should value the lives of others to the same degree as we long to be valued. We should feel the same urgency to relieve our neighbor’s suffering that we feel to relieve our own. We should extend the same patience and forgiveness to our neighbor that we grant to ourselves. And we should pray for others with the same zeal and devotion that we pray for ourselves. To love our neighbors as ourselves is hard work. It takes intention, sacrifice, and courage. So today and for the rest of this Lenten journey, I invite you to practice love -practice loving yourself, your neighbor, and your God.
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 231-22)