The primacy of love

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Once, one of the scribes, (the interpreters of the law), asked Jesus, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" (Mk. 12:28-34) The question was an honest one since the Scribes had found 613 laws in the Scriptures and he wanted to know which was the all-important one. In answer to the question Jesus quoted from the Old Testament: "The first is this: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Dt. 6:4).' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lv. 11:42).'"

Jesus was asked to name the "first of all the commandments" but he responded by giving two. This is significant because for Jesus, love of neighbor arises from and flows directly into love of God. Thus for Jesus, the two are really one, that one can not stand without the other. As St. John has put it very succinctly: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1Jn. 4:20).

The welding of the two commandments into one is a summarized restatement of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments all start with a negative - "Thou shalt not." Perhaps at the time it was given, i.e., shortly after the deliverance of the people from the slavery of Egypt, it was necessary for God to tell them what they should or should not do as then they were still being formed into His people. Now this summary is framed positively: "Love God," and "Love your neighbor." Add the change that Jesus made at the Last Supper on the second commandment, namely, "Love one another as I have loved you," and we have the complete love package.

The scribe showed satisfaction with Jesus' answer and perhaps for him that was that. But Jesus thought differently. For when He taught, He also challenged. Thus He added, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" - an indirect invitation for him to be His disciple. Whether he responded to this invitation or not, the gospels do not tell us.

Now, the same challenge is being made to all of us. In fact, we are to view the two greatest commandments not only as challenges, but as commands (for are they not commandments?) by which we must live if we want to hear Jesus tell us, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Moreover, because they are positive statements of what God wants us to do, the possibilities and ways of carrying them out are almost infinite.

Aside from a great teacher, Jesus was also a great psychologist, a master of human relations. He knew that a lot of unhappiness and human sufferings is caused by the absence -- or lack -- of love. Thus the commandment of love - for God and for neighbor.

Since love of neighbor arises from and flows directly into love of God, it will be helpful for us to examine what Jesus means by "love God with all your heart, ...soul, ...mind, and ...strength."

"With your whole heart." It is a given that if we want to do something well, we must put our whole heart into it. Thus, if we want to excel in our studies, we must study hard or if we want to excel in a sport, say basketball, we must practice regularly and hard. The same applies in our relationship with God. We can not say we love Him with our whole heart if we cannot even spend an hour for Sunday Mass or some of our time for prayer. For as Jesus has said, "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Mt 6:21 & Lk 12:34).

"With all your soul." How many times have we heard the expression, "He/she would never do such a thing?" Why? Because such a person had made something, say a particular principle, as part of his soul. Jesus is asking us for this kind of commitment which motivates all aspects of our lives.

"With your whole mind." Love cannot be equated with emotions since they are unstable, i.e., they come and go. Rather, true love must be grounded on reason. Thus, even if our emotions tell us that we do not like so and so, our reason tells us that we must still love him -- as a brother under God -- which in this case means to wish him well, at least. For love always seek what is good and what makes others better.

"With your whole strength." What this means is we should be ready to back our convictions with all our resources. Put another way, we must not give up a noble task we have set out to do because of a couple of setbacks. Saints are saints because they are willing to sacrifice comfort or even life in their desire to follow Jesus.

If we ask ourselves "How are we to live in the footsteps of Jesus?," the answer is simple: "Live the two greatest commandments." Everything else is commentary.