The Great Commandment

Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, October 29, 2023

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Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 10.26.2023).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, October 29, 2023

The great commandment.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Pharisees once again try to trouble Christ by asking him, through a doctor of the law, the 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 that posed the problem of discerning what the greatest commandment was to gathered them in unity. 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 or sister. 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 or sister, especially the smallest, fragile, helpless, and needy, there is the very image of God «(Pope Francis)

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 like 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 sister, 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 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, 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 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.

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