And what is the greatest of all the commandments?
It was not uncommon to raise the question with a rabbi concerning the greatest of all the commandments. In the gospels of both Mark and Matthew the questions are placed in a series of queries posed to Jesus – paying taxes, resurrection and the greatest commandment.
However, in the gospel of Matthew, where the Pharisees and Scribes are not judged in a positive light, these questions are clearly not those of people seeking to know. When we keep in mind that the gospels were written so that the community might understand the mind of Jesus on various issues in their lives, we see that these scenarios are set up to teach.
It is not the question that was posed in today’s gospel, but the answer given by Jesus that becomes the test for us. Jesus gave a two-fold answer with a single intent. First, we should love God with every fiber of our being. Second, we should love our neighbor as ourselves. But Jesus was not ranking these commandments. After Jesus stated the first of the commandments, he added that the second was like it, as in the same thing. Loving our neighbor as ourselves goes hand in hand with loving God with every fiber of our being. This is not the love of feeling. This is the love of dedication.
This is the love that recognizes the other person, as well as the self, as human extensions of the deity. This is the love of going on when giving up looks more appealing. It is the love that stands up for what is right and just when sitting on the sideline mumbling a prayer is easier. It is the love that takes the stage and acts when watching the show is less demanding. This is the love that recognizes that God is indeed everywhere, even in those situations where we have determined the divine is absent.
This is the love that raises up a song of praise, that dries a tear, that holds a hand. It is the love that writes that letter to the politician, that stands on the picket line, and marches in the protest. It is the love that feeds the hungry and welcomes the stranger. It is the love that knows that every child is love as God is love. It is the love that can slumber in peace and dance with a light heart. It is the love that plants the flower and bows in adoration to the God in all creation. It is the love lived with every fiber of one’s being because it is the love of dedication.
Perhaps it sounds like all too much, a wearying and restless challenge. It may well be if we are feigning dedication.
This is indeed the love that seeks no reward. It doesn’t really have to. You see this is not unreciprocated love, for in every act of dedicated love, one comes face to face and soul to soul with the presence of the living God.
We pray to know the joy of this.
Elizabeth Ferguson OP