BY: Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico


Before the coming of Christ as man, God gave to the people, through Moses, a great commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy (chapter 6, verse 5). These words are part of the first reading of Mass this Sunday.

Centuries after the giving of this law, when Jesus announced the redemption he had come to bring, a scribe, that is, one of those knowledgeable about the commandments and their application to daily life, approached Jesus and asked him which is the first or greatest of all the commandments.

Jesus answered with the very words from the Book of Deuteronomy familiar to the scribe and any devout Jew: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Immediately after, Jesus added, “And this is the second [of all the commandments]: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus would have known well as coming from the Book of Leviticus (chapter 19, verse 18).

No doubt the scribe was curious about how Jesus would answer, perhaps even hoping he would say something that would be considered heretical, and hence a chance for the scribe and others to find fault with the mysterious teacher in their midst, Jesus of Nazareth.

The scribe must have been struck that Jesus simply reiterated the venerable teaching that had been handed down through the centuries. The basis of it all, and fundamental to Jesus’ teaching as well, is love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus upheld these precepts and fulfilled them perfectly as true God and true man.

The preaching of Jesus underlined the love of God and love of neighbor as united, one flowing from the other and back again to the other. It is impossible truly to love God if one does not love one’s neighbor, those with whom we live and interact each day. The clear reply of Jesus to the scribe underscores the simplicity on one level, yet great challenge on another level, of really carrying out the law of love of God and love of neighbor.

“There is no other commandment greater than these,” the Lord told the scribe. No greater, no simpler and perhaps no more difficult. We spend a lifetime doing this, without giving up even when we fall short of the ideal. No one can love perfectly in this life, yet all our attempts are accepted by God and a means of drawing closer to doing God’s will, who has commanded us, even if that sounds harsh, to love first, last and always, no matter the cost.

We can think of the first and second commandments as really inseparable, meaning that they are so closely bound together, that you can’t have one without the other. It could be compared to a coin, which, as we say, has two sides, but is really and always one coin.

When we meet God in others, that is, when we see God’s goodness and action in the lives of others, we are hopefully more disposed to thank God for the wonders done in our midst, especially in the mystery of another person, created, as we all are, in the image and likeness of God. No other creature of God possesses this distinction and with it the chance of participation in divine life, now and forever.

To be faithful to Christ in our daily life, our religion needs to be rooted in a commitment.

That basic commitment once again is love of God and love of neighbor, even when it is not convenient. True religion, according to the teaching of Jesus Christ, is living in love to the fullest, without self-centered interest or exploitation of others. Love of God asks of us a personal relationship with God, manifested in a life of faith, trust, prayer and generous service.

Our love for God must overflow to the love of neighbor, always and everywhere. Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist put it quite bluntly: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and at the same time hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. Likewise, if one does not love his brother whom he sees, cannot love God whom he cannot see” (First Letter of Saint John, chapter 4, verse 20).

There are hundreds of opportunities every day to show our love: at home, at work, on the street, in school, in church, in the monastery, wherever it may be. We are to show ourselves as tolerant, able to forgive, suffering with patience the character or bodily infirmities of others. This is also a clear teaching in the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict.

United with Christ, let us renew our promise to love God and others even as we have been loved by God. Doing so we will live a full life, too deep for words, and enjoy the reward of life eternal with God and all the angels and saints.

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