You shall love your neighbor as yourself

Dear Parishioners & Visitors,

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."–Mark 12:29

In the Gospel we find one of the rare meetings between Jesus and a teacher of the Law which is not confrontational. The man seems genuinely interested in Jesus’ answer to a question that was often asked by interpreters of the Law. Again, rather unusually, Jesus answers the question directly. In answering Jesus does not give just one commandment but two: Love your God with your whole heart and soul and Love your neighbor as yourself. Both answers are taken from the Law of Moses (Dt 6:4-5 and Lv 19:18 respectively).

First, in answering a question about which is the most important commandment, Jesus gives two commandments which, in His view, are quite inseparable; one cannot be kept without the other. We cannot say truly we love God and then refuse to love our neighbor. Jesus will make another modification. He will extend the meaning of ‘neighbor’ to include every single person and not just the people of one’s own race, religion, or family (cf. Lk 10:30-37). As Christians, we are called to Love God. We do that in a variety of ways, but perhaps the best way to demonstrate our love for God is by doing what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, to “Love Thy neighbor.”

Speaking at the Last Supper, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” A few verses later he says the same thing in a slightly different way, “Whosoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” In other words, Jesus wants us to express our love for him by being obedient to his command­ments. These gospel statements should absolutely clear up that there is absolutely no dichotomy whatsoever between loving God and obeying God. There is no disjunction at all between having a love relationship with Christ and keeping his commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself. That is, the commandment to love is more important than the commandments which concern the worship and sacrifices of the Temple. The Prophets of the Old Testament already had affirmed this (Hos 6:6; Ps 40:6-8; Ps 51:16-17). Today we would say that the practice of love is more important than novenas, promises, political party, sermons, and processions. The love that Jesus commands and that He showed his disciple was not a matter of sentiments and opinions, but rather a matter of action and decision. For Saint Gregory the Great “The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.” What Jesus did, He now asks and commands us to do.

Jesus accepts the stranger, the outcast, forgives sinners, and accepts your faults. The love that God shows for humanity is a love without bounds. We are called to show God’s unceasing love for all people, which enables us to more fully see God’s presence in the world. Because if God is truly our Father, we are all brothers and sisters, and we are challenged to show this in practice by loving unceasingly. We, disciples, should keep this law in our mind, in our intelligence, in our heart, in our hands and feet, because one cannot reach God without giving oneself entirely to one’s neighbor!

In fact, loving others as oneself can be difficult but the advocate—The Holy Spirit— will be the voice of God, of Jesus directing our action of loving—and we will never be alone. But why do you suppose we have been ineffective in loving our neighbor? The answer is simply, because we have truncated the good news to a sentimental and sloppy notion of love. We instead need to tie in biblical love. And until we restore obedience to our understanding of the Christian’s love relationship with Christ, we will continue to lose our voice in our city, home, and the world. As Saint Catherine of Siena once said “Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind."

—fr. Peter Damian, O.P.