|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|Ex 22:20-26||Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51||1 Thes 1:5c-10||Mt 22:34-40|
The greatest commandment
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask us whom we love and serve.
In the first reading, the book of Exodus defines laws of social conduct. Semitic thought is concrete, and gives concrete directives and examples. Honoring God and creating personal holiness requires specific acts. The Torah often casts these acts in a social context, giving Judaism a bias toward social action. In the gospel, Jesus also emphasizes action: love.
In the second reading, Paul writes to the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue in their faith. When preaching to non-Jews, Paul begins from the faith they have received. Thessalonica was known as a city of cults. Based on Paul’s comment about “turning to God from idols” (1 Th 1:9) we can infer his community was primarily gentile. He praises them as “models for others who believe,” and “whose faith has gone forth.”
In Mathew’s gospel, the religious leaders continue their attacks on Jesus. In today’s conflict story, a Torah scholar tries to entrap Jesus.
- The question. “Which commandment is the greatest in the law?” The Pharisees counted 613 commands (248 positive commands [“do’s”] and 365 negative commands [“don’ts”]) in the Torah. Torah scholars distinguished between great and small laws, and even the very great and very small commands. The scholar asks Jesus to name “the greatest of the greatest.” No matter what command Jesus cites, the Torah scholars will publicly argue against his choice, shaming him.
- The answer. Rather than choose one commandment, Jesus quotes two well-known laws. But he connects the commands in a unique way–through the word love. The first command is from the Shema prayer (“Hear, O Israel,” Deut 6:4-5), recited twice daily by every Jew: You shall love the Lord your God. Jesus quotes a second command from Lev 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus notes that on these two commands of love hang the whole of the Law’s instruction and the Prophets’ teaching.
The greatness of Jesus’ teaching is not simply that he associates these two commands, but in the new dimension he gives to both by connecting them though the command to love. Each command requires the other: Without love of neighbor, love of God remains an empty emotion; without love of God, love of neighbor becomes a self-serving exercise in feeling good only about oneself.
Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to live both commands of love. The Greek word ἀγαπάω (ah-gah-PAH-oh) means “to have a warm regard for and interest in another,” or “to love actively.” This love is not an emotion, but an action; this action must be lived through specific acts, as exemplified in the first reading. God’s command to protect the disenfranchised–the foreigner, the widow, the orphan–forms the basis for compassionate social justice. Jesus’ restatement of the law of love connects love of God with love of the neighbor. We can’t claim to love God unless we also care for the stranger, the oppressed, the ignored, and those without a voice. We believe God loves us. Whom do we love? How do we serve?