In our Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear a scholar of the law ask Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And Jesus responds with the commandment to love God with everything you have and are. And then, Jesus goes further by talking about the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
As much as we may try to separate the two, we really cannot. How can the love of God be demonstrated in concrete ways unless we love each other? In our first reading from the beginning of the Book of Ruth, we see a great example of this love.
In fact, I see many things about love in what we hear about Ruth that would be good for us to remember. One is that love knows no false barriers. Naomi, an Israelite, moved to Moab with her husband. Her two sons took Moabite women for their wives. When Naomi’s husband dies, and then her two sons die, Naomi decides to go home and sends her daughters-in-law to their homes. But Ruth will not leave her side: “For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” It is such a touching scene, between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, no less! But such is the power of love, flowing from the love of God for all.
At a time when there is great suspicion of those who are different, Ruth and Naomi show us how love, perhaps strengthened by understanding each other’s loss, can overcome the stereotypes and prejudices that seem almost taken for granted these days.
The two commandments of which Jesus speaks have been with us for a long time, and yet, when we follow them, we witness to a different idea of what the world can be. I would daresay that it is not only “the law and the prophets” which depend on these two commandments, but all of reality. As people of faith, we don’t need to ask which are the greatest commandments. All we need to do is to follow them.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.