Hear, O Israel…

The greatest commandment

The greatest and first commandment is and ever will be “love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30). At the times when the people of God, throughout the centuries, deepened their understanding of and gave importance to the love of God, then they became aware that the love of God would be real only when it becomes concrete in the love of neighbour. That is why the second commandment to love the neighbour, is similar to the first to love God (Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31). “Anyone who says “I love God’ and hates his brother, is a liar” (1 Jn 4:20). “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too” (Mt 22,40). At first, it was not clear what the love of neighbour entailed. Concerning this point, there was an evolution in three stages in the history of the people of God:

1st Stage“Neighbour” is kindred of the same race The Old Testament already taught the obligation to “love your neighbour as yourself!” (Lv 19:18). In those long distant days, the word neighbour was synonymous with kindred. They felt obliged to love all those who were members of the same family, clan tribe and people. As for foreigners, that is, people who did not belong to the Jewish people, Deuteronomy says: “you may exploit, but you must remit whatever claim you have on your brother (kindred, neighbour)!” (Dt 15:3).

2nd Stage: “Neighbour is anyone I approach or who approaches me Gradually, the concept of neighbour grew. Thus, in Jesus’ time there was a great discussion as to “who is my neighbour?” Some doctors said that the concept of neighbour had to be extended beyond the limits of race. Others, however, would not hear of this. That is why a doctor went to Jesus with the debated question: “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), where the neighbour was not a relative, nor a friend, nor a nobleman, but the one who approached you, independent of religion, colour, race, sex or language. You must love him!

3rd StageThe measure of our love of “neighbour” is to love as Jesus loves us Jesus had said to the doctor of the Law: “You are not far from the kingdom of God!” (Mk 12:34). The doctor was already close to the Kingdom because in fact the Kingdom consists in uniting the love of God with the love of neighbour, as the doctor had solemnly declared in Jesus’ presence (Mk 12:33). But to enter the Kingdom he still needed one more step. The criterion for loving the neighbour as taught in the Old Testament was “as yourself”. Jesus stretches this criterion and says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you! No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends!” (Jn 15:12-13). The criterion in the New Testament then is: “To love one’s neighbour as Jesus has loved us!”. Jesus gave the true interpretation of the Word of God and showed the sure way to attain a more just and fraternal way of life.

This reflection is the work of the Carmelites at ocarm.org