Jesus and the Question of the Greatest Commandment – Reflection for Sunday, October 29, 2023

Jesus is asked what was then a very important question to the common people of Israel. What is the greatest commandment?

The problem is there are over 600 rules, or commands, defined by The Law Of Moses. Golly, how could a common person be expected to know and follow all of them equally well? It was unreasonable to expect that a person could actually know and always keep all of the commandments. So, the idea was, perhaps some are more important than the others; and if so, which ones?

This question of ranking commandments has been written about by others.

  • Christians traditionally teach the 10 Commandments. (We find them in Exodus 20:3-15)
  • The Psalmist lists 11 commands necessary to life. (Ps 15:2-5)
  • The prophet Micah gives just 3 simple rules. (Micah 6:8)
  • Jesus answered with 2. (Matthew 22:37-39; see also: Lk 10:27-28, and Mk 12:29-31)

“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.”

However, that answer from Jesus was not an original thought. It is a combination of two separate statements of The Law in Deuteronomy 6:5 and in Leviticus 19:18. The genius of Jesus was to link those two commands together. In other words, according to the wisdom of Jesus it is not possible to keep only one of them.

In effect, Jesus taught that we cannot really love God if we do not love others. On the flip side, he also means that the very act of loving others in sincerity of heart is effectively a pure act of loving God. (Gasp!)

Yes, other rules are good to follow, but nothing is more important than our sincere love of God and of each other.

– Fr. Mark Hoelsken, S.J.

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