The Great Commandment

XXX Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 29, 2017

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Roman Rite
XXX Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 29, 2017
Ex 22, 21-27; Ps 18; 1Ts 1.5-10; Mt 22.34-40
Ambrosian Rite
Is 45, 20-23; Ps 22; Phl; Mt 13: 47-52
Second Sunday after the Dedication of the Milan Cathedral
To better understand today’s Gospel it is useful to remember that, in first place, the question to ask ourselves is not «What to do» but «Who am I? Why and for whom do I live? «and, secondly, we must keep in mind this question of Jesus «What advantage will man have if he will gain the whole world, and then lose his soul? Or what can man give in exchange for his own soul? «(Mt 16:26).
The answer to the question «Who am I?» could be a modified version of the famous Descartes’ sentence: not «Cogito, ergo sum» (I think therefore I am) but «Cogitor, ergo sum» which means «I’m thought [by the love of God], so I am «. God’s loving intelligence has created us, but has not left us alone on earth. The Logos (Word, Thought, Intelligence, and Meaning of Life), the Word, became flesh and came to us freely and without having done anything to deserve him. Let’s faithfully accept him and his great command to love.” Not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy he saved us.”(Tt 3, 5)
Our love for God is not the cause but the consequence of his love for us. «In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he has loved us … We love because he loved us first» (1 Jn 4, 10.19). Let’s love our neighbor with a heart dilated by this love.
1) The great commandment.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Pharisees once again try to put Christ in difficulty asking him, through a doctor of the law, this question «Master, in the Law, what is the great commandment?» (Mt 22.36). It is a fundamental question because in the Mosaic Law there were 613 precepts and prohibitions, which, in order to be gathered into unity, posed the problem of discerning what the greatest commandment was. Jesus has no hesitation and responds promptly: «You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment «(Mt 22: 37-38).
The Pharisees certainly agree with the first part of Jesus’ answer. They too thought that love for God was more important than any other commandment. In fact, Jesus responds by quoting the Shema’, the prayers that the pious Israelites perform several times a day especially in the morning and in the evening (cf. Dt 6, 4-9; Dt 11: 13-21; Nb 15: 37-41). In this prayer it is proclaimed the complete and total love due to God as the only Lord. «The emphasis is on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul, and mind. The term mind, diánoia, contains the rational element. God is not only the object of love, commitment, will, and feeling, but also of the intellect, which is therefore not excluded from this sphere. It is precisely our thinking that must conform to the thought of God «(Benedict XVI).
With the second part of his answer, however, Jesus is upsetting them because the second commandment, the most similar to the first, is the love for the neighbor. Not only does Christ say that God is not opposed to man, but that God extends the heart of man who, in God, loves his neighbor. «Jesus operates a gap that allows two faces to be seen: the face of the Father and that of the brother. He does not deliver us two formulas or two precepts: they are not precepts and formulas; He gives us two faces, or better, a single face, that of God that is reflected in many faces because in the face of every brother, especially the smallest, fragile, helpless and needy, there is the very image of God «(Pope Francis)
2) Such a great commandment contains two other commandments.
It is true that Jesus uses two quotations from the Old Testament, but He says also that the commandment of loving one’s neighbor is similar to that of loving God. It is a shocking and amazing statement: in the person who loves God with all his heart there is room for love toward the husband, the wife, the child, the brother, the friend, the neighbor, and even the enemy. God does not steal the heart, he dilates it.
It is also true that, although the scribe asks what the greatest commandment (at the singular) is, Jesus answers by listing two. Love for God is the greatest and the first: the primacy of God is affirmed without hesitation. Love for man comes second. Saying, however, that «the second is similar to the first», Jesus states that there is a very close bond between the two commandments. Certainly the measure is different: love for God is «with all your heart, with all your soul, with your whole mind.» Love for man is «like love for yourself». The whole belongs to the Lord alone: He alone must be worshiped. However, belonging to the Lord cannot be without love for man. In fact, Jesus says «Upon these two commandments depend all the laws and the prophets.» These are not two parallel commandments, simply one is next to the other. It is not enough to say that the second is based on the former. It is much more: the second (that of love for one’s neighbor) embodies the first (that of love for God).
In itself there is no opposition between these two loves. Unfortunately, however, they are lived in a disassociated way. There are those who accentuate the primacy of God (hence prayer, relationship with the Lord, and personal inner conversion) and those who, in God’s name, draw attention to man (hence justice, struggle for a fairer world, and taking position in front of unjust structures). The first would be considered more religious and the second more political. However, such a judgment is superficial and frustrating.
One answer comes from this episode of Saint Vincent de Paul’s life. To a nun of the Daughters of Charity (a religious congregation founded by him to help the poor) who was asking him: «What should I do if, while I worship before to Sacred Sacrament, a poor knock at the Convent’s door?» the Saint replied «You do not leave God if you leave God for God.»
Another response comes from St. Teresa of Calcutta, the Missionary of Charity. As a religious habit for herself and her sisters, she chose the white sari worn by the poor widows of Bengal, and on the white veil, which is woven in a leper colony run by the Missionaries of Charity, she inserted three blue stripes to indicate the three votes: chastity, obedience, and poverty. Moreover, she wanted the strip of chastity greater than the other two because in the love of God, to whom a heart is consecrated totally, there is love for the neighbor in whose service the nun happily sets herself.
God must not be opposed to man or man to God; for Jesus there is no competition neither contrast between the two loves. He will declare at the final judgment «‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me I say unto you “(Mt 25: 40). St. John writes: «If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother «(1 John 4:20, 21). The Saints I mentioned are two of the long list of saints of charity of whom the Church is rich.
It is useful to remember that even the consecrated virgins are missionaries of charity because they chose God-Charity. These women are called to be at the same time clear signs and hidden seeds that are offered to God-earth in order to bring the fruit of salvation to everyone. Like Jesus presented to the temple and offered, each consecrated woman is an offer received by the Church and presented to God as the primacy of the Christian people.
The consecrated virgin is characterized by a life of complete gratuitousness: from God she has received the gift of love to live only of God, and to God she returns through the prayers of praise and supplication and the service of charity toward the neighbor. Her consecration makes her, in the present society, credible and incisive witness of the Gospel «sowing communion and going to the» peripheries «because there is an entire humanity waiting» (Pope Francis).
With her existence, the consecrated virgin shows that the great command of love is a grace that allows a happy life rooted in God and practiced in the service of the neighbor.
Patristic reading
Saint John Chrysostom (344/354 –  407)
Homily LXXI
On Matthew Chapter 22, Verse 34-Matthew Chapter 22, Verse 36
“But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together; and one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Again doth the evangelist express the cause, for which they ought to have held their peace, and marks their boldness by this also. How and in what way? Because when those others were put to silence, these again assail Him. For when they ought even for this to hold their peace, they strive to urge further their former endeavors,1 and put forward the lawyer, not desiring to learn, but making a trial of Him, and ask, “What is the first commandment?”
For since the first commandment was this, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” thinking that He would afford them some handle, as though He would amend it, for the sake of showing that Himself too was God, they propose the question. What then saith Christ? Indicating from what they were led to this; from having no charity, from pining with envy. From being seized by jealousy, He saith, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. This is the first and great commandment.2 and the second is like unto this3 Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”4
But wherefore “like unto this?” Because this makes the way for that, and by it is again established; “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light;’5 and again, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” And what in consequence of this? “They are corrupt, and become abominable in their ways.”6 And again, “The love of money is the root of all evils; which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith; “7 and, “He that loveth me, will keep my commandment.”8
But His commandments, and the sum of them, are, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself.” If therefore to love God is to love one’s neighbor, “For if thou lovest me,” He saith, “O Peter, feed my sheep,”9 but to love one’s neighbor worketh a keeping of the commandments, with reason doth He say, “On these hang all the law and the prophets.”10
So therefore what He did before, this He doth here also. I mean, that both there, when asked about the manner of the resurrection, He also taught a resurrection, instructing “For charity envieth not.”11 By this He shows Himself to be submissive both to the law and to the prophets.
But wherefore doth Matthew say that he asked, tempting Him, but Mark the contrary? “For when Jesus,” he saith, “saw that he answered discreetly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”12
They are not contradicting each other, but indeed fully agreeing. For he asked indeed, tempting, at the beginning, but being benefitted by the answer, was commended. For not at the beginning did He commend him, but when he had said, “That to love his neighbor is more than whole burnt sacrifices,” then He saith, “Thou art not far from the kingdom;” because he overlooked low things, and embraced the first principle of virtue. For indeed all those are for the sake of this, as well the Sabbath as the rest.
And not even so did He make His commendation perfect, but yet deficient. For His saying, “Thou art not far off,” indicates that he is yet falling short, that he might seek after what was deficient.
But if, when He said, “There is one God, and there is none other but He,” He commended him, wonder not, but by this too observe, how He answers according to the opinion of them that come unto Him. For although men say ten thousand things about Christ unworthy of His glory, yet this at any rate they will not dare to say, that He is not God at all. Wherefore then doth He praise him that said, that beside the Father, there is no other God?
Not excepting Himself from being God; away with the thought; but since it was not yet time to disclose His Godhead, He suffers him to remain in the former doctrine, and praises him for knowing well the ancient principles, so as to make him fit for the doctrine of the New Testament, which He is bringing in its season.
And besides, the saying, “There is one God, and there is none other but He,” both in the Old Testament and everywhere, is spoken not to the rejection of the Son, but to make the distinction from idols. So that when praising this man also, who had thus spoken, He praises him in this mind.
Then since He had answered, He asks also: in turn, “What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He? They say unto Him, The Son of David.”13
See after how many miracles, after how many signs, after how many question, after how great a display of His unanimity with the Father, as well in words, as in deeds; after having praised this man that said, that there is one God, He asks the question, that they may not be able to say, that He did miracles indeed, yet was an adversary to the law, and a foe to God.
Therefore, after so many things, He asks these questions, secretly leading them on to confess Him also to be God. And the disciples He asked first what the others say, and then themselves; but these not so; for surely they would have said a deceiver, and a wicked one, as speaking all things without fear. So for this cause He inquires for the opinion of these men themselves.
For since He was now about to go on to His passion, He sees forth the prophecy that plainly proclaims Him to be Lord; and not as having come to do this without occasion, nor as having made this His aim, but from a reasonable cause.
For having asked them first, since they answered not the truth concerning Him (for they said He was a mere man), to overthrow their mistaken opinion, He thus introduces David proclaiming His Godhead. For they indeed supposed that He was a mere man, wherefore also they said, “the Son of David;”14 but He to correct this brings in the prophet witnessing to His being Lord, and the genuineness of His Sonship, and His equality in honor with His Father.
And not even at this doth He stop, but in order to move them to fear, He adds what followeth also, saying, “Till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool;”15 that at least in this way He might gain them over.
And that they may not say, that it was in flattery he so called Him, and that this was a human judgment, see what He saith, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord?” See how submissively He introduces the sentence and judgment concerning Himself. First. He had said, “What think ye? Whose Son is He?” so by a question to bring them to an answer. Then since they said, “the Son of David,” He said not, “And yet David saith these things,” but again in this order of a question, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord?” in order that the sayings might not give offense to them. Wherefore neither did He say, What think ye of me, but of Christ. For this reason the apostles also reasoned submissively, saying, “Let us speak freely of the Patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried.”16
And He Himself too in like manner for this cause introduces the doctrine in the way of question and inference, saying, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool;”17 and again, “If David then call Him Lord, how is He then his Son,”18 not taking away the fact that He is his Son, away with the thought; for He would not then have reproved Peter for this,19 but to correct their secret thoughts. So that when He saith, “Howls He his Son?” He meaneth this, not so as ye say. For they said, that He is Son only, and not also Lord. And this after the testimony, and then submissively, “If David then call Him Lord, how is He his Son?”
But, nevertheless, even when they had heard these things, they answered nothing, for neither did they wish to learn any of the things that were needful. Wherefore He Himself addeth and saith, that “He is his Lord.” Or rather not even this very thing doth He say without support, but having taken the prophet with Him, because of His being exceedingly distrusted by them, and evil reported of amongst them. To which fact we ought to have especial regard, and if anything be said by Him that is lowly and submissive, not to be offended, for the cause is this, with many other things also, that He talks with them in condescension.
Wherefore now also He delivers His doctrine in the manner of question and answer; but He darkly intimates even in this way His dignity. For it was not as much to be called Lord of the Jews, as of David.
But mark thou also, I pray thee, how seasonable it is. For when He had said, “There is one Lord,” then He spake of Himself that He is Lord, and showed it by prophecy, no more by His works only. And He showeth the Father Himself taking vengeance upon them in His behalf, for He saith, “Until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool,” and great unanimity even hereby on the part of Him that begat Him towards Himself, and honor. And upon His reasonings with them He doth set this end high and great, and sufficient to close fast their mouths.
For they were silent from thenceforth, not willingly, but from their having nothing to say; and they received so deadly a blow, as no longer to dare to attempt the same things any more. For, “no one,” it is said, “durst from that day forth ask Him any more questions.”20
And this was no little advantage to the multitude.21 Therefore also unto them doth He henceforth direct His word, having removed the wolves, and having repulsed their plots.
For those men gained nothing, taken captive by vainglory, and having fallen upon this terrible passion. For terrible is this passion and many-headed, for some set their heart upon power for the sake of this, some on wealth, some on strength. But proceeding in order it goes on unto almsgiving also, and fasting, and prayers, and teaching, and many are the heads of this monster.
But to be vainglorious indeed about those other things is nothing wonderful; but to be so about fasting and prayer, this is strange and lamentable.
But that we may not again blame only, come and let us tell the means, by which we shall avoid this. Against whom shall we prepare to contend first, against those that are vainglorious of money, or those of dress, or those of places of power, or those of sciences, or those of art, or those of their person, or those of beauty, or those of ornaments, or those of cruelty, or those of humanity and almsgiving, or those of wickedness, or those of death, or those after death? For indeed, as I have said, this passion hath many links? And goes on beyond our life. For such a one, it is said, is dead, and that he may be held in admiration, hath charged that such and such things be done; and therefore such a one is poor, such a one rich.
For the grievous thing is this, that even of opposite things is it made up.
Against whom then shall we stand, and let ourselves in array first? For one and the same discourse suffices not against all. Will ye then that it be against them that are vainglorious about almsgiving?
To me at least it seems well; for exceedingly do I love this thing, and am pained at seeing it marred, and vainglory plotting against it, like a pandering nurse against some royal damsel. For she feeds her indeed, but for disgrace and mischief, prostituting her and commanding her to despise her father; but to deck herself to please unholy and often despicable men; and invests her with such a dress, as strangers wish, disgraceful, and dishonorable, not such as the father.
Come now, then, let us take our aim against these; and let there be an almsgiving made in abundance for display to the multitude. Surely then, first vainglory leads her out of her Father’s chamber. And whereas her Father requires not to appear so much as to the left hand, 22 she displays her to the slaves, and to the vulgar, that have not even known her.
Seest thou a harlot, and pander, casting her into the love of foolish men, that according as they require, so she may order herself? Dost thou desire to see how it renders such a soul not a harlot only, but insane also?
Mark then her mind. For when she lets go heaven and runs after fugitives and menial slaves, pursuing through streets and lanes them that hate her, the ugly and deformed, them that are not willing so much as to look at her, them that, when she burns with love towards them, hate her, what can be more insane than this? For no one do the multitude hate so much, as those that want the glory they have to bestow. Countless accusations at least do they frame against them, and the result is the same, as if any one were to bring down a virgin daughter of the king from the royal throne, and to require her to prostitute herself to gladiators, who abhorred her. These then, as much as thou pursuest them, so much do they turn away from thee; but God, if thou seek the glory that cometh from Him, so much the more both draws thee unto Himself, and commends thee, and great is the reward He renders unto thee.
But if thou art minded in another way also to discern the mischief thereof, when thou givest for display and ostentation, consider how great the sorrow that then comes upon thee, and how continual the desponding, while Christ’s voice is heard in thine ears, saying,23 “Thou hast lost all thy reward.” For in every matter indeed vainglory is a bad thing. Yet most of all in beneficence, for it is the utmost cruelty, making a show of the calamities of others, and all but upbraiding those in poverty. For if to mention one’s own good actions is to upbraid, what dost thou think it is to publish them even to many others.
How then shall we escape the danger? If we learn how to give alms, if we see after whose good report we are to seek. For tell me, who has the skill of almsgiving? Plainly, it is God, who hath made known the thing. Who best of all knows it, and practices it without limit. What then? If thou art learning to be a wrestler, to whom dost thou look? Or to whom dost thou display thy doings in the wrestling school, to the seller of herbs, and of fish, or to the trainer? And ye they are many, and he is one. What then, if while the admires thee, others deride thee. wilt thou not with him deride them?
What, if thou art learning to box, wilt thou not look in like manner to him who knows how to teach this? And if thou art practicing oratory, wilt thou not accept the praise of the teacher of rhetoric, and despise the rest.
How then is it other than absurd, in other arts to look to the teacher only, but here to do the contrary? Although the loss be not equal. For there, if you wrestle according to the opinion of the multitude, and not that of the teacher, the loss is in the wrestling; but here it is in eternal life. Thou art become like to God in giving alms; be thou then like Him in not making a display. For even He said, when healing, that they should tell no man.
But dost thou desire to be called merciful amongst men? And what is the gain? The gain is nothing; but the loss infinite. For these very persons, whom thou callest to be witnesses. Become robbers of thy treasures that are in the heavens; or rather not these, but ourselves, who spoil our own possessions, and scatter what we have laid up above.
O new calamity! This strange passion. Where moth corrupteth not, nor thief breaketh through, vainglory scattereth. This is the moth of those treasures there; this the thief of our wealth in heaven; this steals away the riches that cannot be spoiled; this mars and corrupts all. For because the devil saw that that place is impregnable to thieves and to the worm, and the other plots against them, he by vainglory steals away the wealth.
But dost thou desire glory? Doth not then that suffice thee which is given by the receiver himself, that from our gracious God, but dost thou set thine heart on that from men also? Take heed, lest thou undergo the contrary, lest some condemn thee as not showing mercy, but making a display, and seeking honor, as making a show of the calamities of others.
For indeed the showing of mercy is a mystery. Shut therefore the doors, that none may see what it is not pious to display. For our mysteries too are above all things, a showing of God’s mercy and loving-kindness. According to His great mercy, He had mercy on us being disobedient.
And the first prayer too is full of mercy, when we entreat for the energumens; and the second again, for others under penance seeking for much mercy; and the third also for ourselves, and this puts forward the innocent children of the people entreating God for mercy. For since we condemn ourselves for sins, for them that have sinned much and deserve to be blamed we ourselves cry; but for ourselves the children; for the imitators of whose simplicity the kingdom of heaven is reserved. For this image shows this, that they who are like those children, lowly and simple, these above all men are able to deliver the guilty by their prayers.
But the mystery itself, of how much mercy, of how much love to man it is full, the initiated know.
Do thou then, when according to thy power thou art showing mercy to a man, shut the doors, let the object of thy mercy see it only; but if it be possible, not even he. But if thou set them open, thou art profanely exposing thy mystery.
Consider that the very person, whose praise thou seekest, even himself will condemn thee; and if he be a friend, will accuse thee to himself; but if an enemy, he will deride thee unto others also. And thou wilt undergo the opposite of what thou desirest. For thou indeed desirest that he should call thee the merciful man; but he will not call thee this, but the vainglorious, the man-pleaser, and other names far more grievous than these.
But if thou shouldest hide it, he will call thee all that is opposite to this; the merciful, the kind. For God suffers it not to be hidden; but if thou conceal it, the other will make it known, and greater will be the admiration, and more abundant the gain. So that even for this very object of being glorified, to make a display is against us; for with respect to the thing unto which we most hasten and press, as to this most especially is this thing against us. For so far from obtaining the credit of being merciful, we obtain even the contrary, and besides this, great is the loss we undergo.
For every motive then let us abstain from this, and set our love on God’s praise alone. For thus shall we both attain to honor here, and enjoy the eternal blessings, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might world without end. Amen.
1 ejpagwnivzontai toi`» protevroi»).
2 [R. V., following a different reading, “great and first.”] 3 [The text varies from the received slightly, as well as from the reading accepted in the R. V.—R.] 4 .
Jn 3,20.
Ps 53,1.
1Tm 6,10.
Jn 14,15. [The paraphrase given above confirms the rendering of the R..V, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.”—R.] 9 Jn 21,16-17.
10 Mt 22,40.
11 1Co 13,4.
12 Mc 12,34.
13 Mt 22,42. [R. V., “the Christ.”] 14 It may be in this view that it is said of St. Paul, immediately on his conversion, that “he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God”. Ac 9,20.
15 Mt 22,43. [The form is that of the received text. R. V., following strongly preponderant authority, “underneath thy feet.”—R.] 16 Ac 2,29.
17 Mt 22,44.
18 Mt 22,45.
19 For being unwilling to admit what belonged to His Humanity; Mt 16,22-23.
20 Mt 22,46.
21 See the parallel place, Mc xii. 37, where it is added, “The common people heard Him gladly.” [R. V., margin, “or, the great multitude,” etc.] 22 plektavna»).
23 Mt 6,3.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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