Matthew 22: 34- 40

Next Sunday’s gospel begins with the Pharisees hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. They decide to get together to disconcert Jesus. One of them puts this question to Him  ‘Which is the greatest commandment of the law?’ Jesus answers clearly   “You must love the lord your God with all your heart  ,with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment . The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.” This quotation comes from Deut : 6 -5 and is known as the Jewish creed, the Shema.  Every Jewish child was taught it and had to commit it to memory. It means that we must give our total love to God and that is a life’s commitment.

It is also for us a deep wisdom saying. It invites us to enter into it with our feelings . In doing that, we find out very quickly that we do not live up to it, as individuals, as a church and as communities. The call then is to repentance.

So how do we enter more into this text and begin to understand it more deeply? A good approach is to start with Jesus himself.  Jesus’ life was a journey going ever deeper into the solid foundation of this saying. He always put God His ‘abba’ first with all his heart, soul and mind. We see that clearly in all the gospels. Once Jesus put this foundation in place, the second commandment fell into place quite naturally, namely love of neighbour and love of ourselves.  The same applies to us. Once we put God first, we find that love of neighbour naturally follows. It is never easy, but it becomes clearer to us as time goes by. So who is our neighbour that we are called to love?  It is all living beings, not just the human. It is the earth and all creation.

Now with regards to love of the self, it is helpful to be aware of the importance of individualism in our Western culture. This concept demands that our first obligation as human beings is to look after ourselves. We need again to go to what Jesus tells us. Jesus rejects all forms of individualism. He upholds solidarity instead.  His position is that we and our neighbour are one person. Our destinies are intertwined. When we love our neighbour, we are loving ourselves. So we celebrate Jesus who teaches us this by word and example.

Now to the Law and the Prophets. Jesus says in this gospel that ‘on these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets’. For Jesus this was his Jewish ancestral heritage. We can interpret it for ourselves as our cultural  traditions and our heritage. It can be easy for us to believe that our culture and heritage are superior, and that other peoples and cultures are inferior to
us! We can look down on others so easily.  The Pharisees did this all the time. We need to look at the Pharisee inside us.

Jesus on the other hand always remained clear and focused because he always had his priorities right We are called daily to do the same. Daily we need to try to be clear and focused on what are my priorities this day!  If we do this, we hopefully will find that we can love and reach out to others in a clear and unselfish way.  We can only do this with Jesus’ help and example.

Pauline McGrath OP