Friday, March 20, 2009

Of all the commandments in the Law, which is the most important?

Today’s gospel is the last of three encounters in which Jesus is asked questions that can best be described as “tricky”. The first was with the Pharisees, about paying taxes to the Romans. Jesus answer their question: Give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give God what is God’s. The second was with the Sadducees, about a man and his six brothers who all married the same woman, but none of them gave her a child. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus answered: God said “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am the God of the living, not of the dead.” They didn’t ask him any more questions.

Then came the third questioner, a scribe.

“Of all the commandments in the Law, which is the most important?” he asked.

"The most important one is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

"Well said, rabbi," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. ________________________________________________

That last exchange was remarkably friendly, compared to the first two. The question was a much debated question among the scribes and teachers of the Law. On the one hand, they tended to split up the Law into hundreds and thousands of regulations; on the other hand, they tried to distill its essence and express it in as few words as possible.

The scribe came up with the typically tricky question. When Jesus answered, the scribe said, “Right on!” And he received a wonderful response, “You’re not far from the Kingdom.” We don’t enter the Kingdom by knowing all the right answers to the questions in the Catechism. That, as I used to hear in grade school, will get you a good grade in religion class.

The real test, the truly final exam is this:
Who am I?
Who is my neighbor?
Who is God?

Do I love myself?
Do I love my neighbor?
Do I love God? 

Do this, and you'll get a passing grade.
Do this with all your heart, mind and might, and you'll get highest honors -- sainthood! 

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