Today’s Gospel selection recalls question put to Jesus by the scribe: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The scribe knew the many regulations of the Old Testament…some 613 distinct commandments! Most likely the scribe was sincere in asking about the first, the greatest.
Jesus didn’t hesitate as he quoted the Book of Deuteronomy: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”…and He took things one step further with a quote from the Book of Leviticus: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus rolls all the commandments into one commandment: love God totally, who is likewise present in ourselves and our neighbors…God present in all creation.
One serious “catch” in the statements of Jesus and Deuteronomy: the tiny three letter word “all”…all your heart and soul and mind and strength. This implies “totality”, giving ourselves totally to God, with nothing left out, no holding back. In our humanness, we can easily dream of holding back, of loving God “out there” in a general way with minimal life consequences. We human beings…at times good and gracious, and at other times belligerent, lazy, offensive, selfish!
Today’s Scriptures challenge us to take Jesus’ words to heart, to love and not hold back in any way…to love everyone…God, neighbors, self. Truly a Gospel challenge with far-reaching consequences for ourselves, our families, our Church, and our world. And…we can do it! Jesus is our Way, our Truth, and our Life. Each day, we’re invited to open our hearts and lives to Him and respond with lives of love.
As we faithfully try to live each day, may Jesus look at us as He looked at the scribe, and encourage us as well: “…you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Fr. John Schork, C.P. is a member of the Passionist community in Chicago, Illinois.