If you’re like me, you sometimes lose perspective on what is most important in life. We get so busy, so distracted, and so worried about what is going on around us at home, at work or school, or wherever that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture, and instead focus on small things that aren’t really crucial. So we end up wasting our time and energy on what really isn’t very important.
Today’s Gospel is the antidote. Jesus tells us, in just a few words, what must come first and what is the greatest.
The first is this:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 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.” (Mk 12)
Why does Jesus say that the commandment to love God comes first? Why first? For one thing, this law was one of the first commandment in heaven. It was binding on the very angels. Angels are spiritual beings. Angels cannot die or be murdered. Presumably having no physical bodies they can’t steal or commit adultery. Their commandment is to love God. Some angels refused to love God; the result was they were cast out of heaven to become the devil and his minions.
The commandment to love God applied in the garden, to Adam and Eve. God gave this commandment before there was a necessity for any other commandments. It was written upon the very tablets of their hearts. – “You shall love the Lord your God.” The love of Adam and Eve, the first married couple, was but an echo of the love they had for God and God’s love for them. Through the lies of the devil, they allowed pride and covetousness to interfere with their love of God. Immediately, their married love was shaken as they turned on each other in accusation. The result of their failure to love God unconditionally was that they were cast out of Eden and sin and death entered the world.
The commandment to love God is the first of the Ten Commandments, written with God’s own hand upon the tablets given to Moses. The other commandments deal with our relationships with each other – thy shall not kill; thy shall not covet, and so forth. This first command, which deals with God the almighty takes precedence over every other. It is the sum and substance of the law; and the second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, lies within the folds of the first for loving God necessarily produces love of our neighbor. It is impossible to love God and not love God’s children.
The readings today make it clear that Jesus teaches that to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and therefore loving your neighbor, is a duty.
The duty is that we should love God with our heart; so that our heart is to have its whole being absorbed into God, so that God is who we pursue with our heart and most mighty love. Love is what God asks.
The duty is to love God with all your soul. Your soul is what animates your body; the combining of spiritual soul and physical body is what makes us uniquely human. To love God with all your soul means to love God with your very life, to the laying down of your life. Love is what God asks.
The duty is to love God with all your mind. Praying to and studying about God is healthy and worthy of merit but does not automatically fulfil the first commandment. The scribes and the Pharisees prayed to and studied about God. Jesus told the scribe that these are not enough. Love is what God asks.
The duty is to love God with all your strength. Love of God is characterized by activity. We are to throw our whole selves into the worship and adoration of God. Don’t hold back a single hour, or a single penny of your wealth, or a single talent, or a single atom of strength, bodily or mental, from the worship of God. Love is what God asks.
The first and greatest commandment comes with a promise. This is what Moses wrote in our first reading: “Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe (these commandments) that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Dt 6). Our lives, minds, soul and heart flourish when we love God wholly, and we become wholly human, closer to completing our exodus and pilgrimage to God.
Knowing this, how then should we act? If loving God is the first and greatest commandment, what should we do with our heart, mind, soul and strength to fulfil the commandment?What can you do to love God more? Could there be a more important question? What needs to change in your life, your thoughts, your heart and in your efforts? Ask yourself this, and then more importantly ask God to help you. Who, by their own strength and effort, could fulfill the duty that the first and greatest commandment imposes on us? As we heard Jesus say just a few weeks ago at Mass, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”(Mk 10). So ask God for the grace of loving God more perfectly. Listen for the answer, then act upon God’s word in your life, that you may love God more, and in doing so, love your neighbor.