Friday, August 21, 2009

Which Of The Commandments Is The Greatest?

Once, in the time of the Judges, there was a famine in Judah; so a man from Bethelehem named Elimelech left with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilon, left to settle on the plateau of Moab on the other bank of the Jordan. After about two years, Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons, who both married Moabite women, one name Orpah, the other Ruth. When they had been there about ten years, Naomi’s sons also died.

Naomi decided to go back to Judah with her daughters-in-law, but then she said to them “Go back to your mother’s house! And may the LORD be as kind to you as you were to the departed and to me.”
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to forsake you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you dwell, I will dwell; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem, where they arrived at the beginning of the barley harvest.

This is the beginning of the story, which is told in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, today’s First Reading. Eventually, Ruth finds a new husband, Boaz, and she becomes the mother of Obed, who is the father of King David. That’s the rest of the story.

In today’s gospel, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a question to test him: “Which of the commandments is the greatest?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; the second commandment is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself.” And he concludes: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The answer Jesus gave was not unfamiliar to the lawyer. The first part, about our obligation to worship God, is the most familiar verse of the Hebrew Scriptures, the “Shema”, Deuteronomy 6:5; the second part, also from the Old Testament, is found in Leviticus 19:18. Children – and grownups – of every generation since the coming of Christ have repeated the same question: How can I learn to my neighbor as myself? The answer to that question is not one found merely in the words of Jesus, but in the example of his life:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8)

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

That second part (love your neighbor) is really hard to do without God's help. We practice servant leadership in the directorate that I am responsible for in my organization, and when supervisors ask me how to deal with difficult people, I tell them that they have to start by honestly loving them and the rest will take care of itself. Those managers who cannot succeed are the same ones who cannot find it in them to love the "difficult" people (who just happen to be my favorites -- the "easy" people are rather boring). Those managers who can love all their employees -- and generally they have strong faith in God -- are the ones who have the fewest "problem" employees. I am convinced that it is because our supervisory staff for the most part is dedicated to following these two commandments that my directorate has become known as "the black hole" by our EEO office. People from other divisions and directorates (i.e. the "difficult" people) come to work in our directorate and they no longer file union or EEO complaints. I think everyone just wants to feel valued, respected, and loved. The rest takes care of itself.

Nonetheless, it is not easy, and there is a lot of prayer going on behind the scenes. I know that for a fact.