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The greatest commandment

Gospel reading: Mk 12:28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

A revered rabbi in Israel, Simon the Just, is credited with this maxim: “The world rests on three things: the Law, the sacrificial worship, and expressions of love.” The prophets, on the other hand, affirm the superiority of moral life over cultic sacrifice. The prophet Hosea records God’s declaration: “It is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6).

In the Gospel, a scribe asks Jesus which is the first – the most important – of the commandments. The scholars of the Law have found 613 commands in Scriptures. Jesus points to the most familiar command that the Jews recite daily: the Shema Israel (“Hear, O Israel”) from Dt 6:4-5. He adds to it the command focused on the neighbor from Lv 19:18. The commandment of love touches on our relationship with God and our neighbor. The Decalogue, another “summary” of God’s commands, speaks of our responsibilities towards God and our fellow human beings.

The scribe, pictured in a favorable light, agrees with Jesus and declares the superiority of the double commandment of love over ritual sacrifices. Open to the proclamation of Jesus, he is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (v 34).

“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).

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