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.
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT. “Which is the first of all the commandments?” a scribe asks. In Jesus’ time, it is common to make queries like this. It is similar to our questions like, “Why do we pray to Mary? Is it a sin to break the Eucharistic fast? Why do we go to Confession? Why do we have images? Where do unbaptized babies go when they die?”
In the Gospel, we are not told if the scribe is just testing Jesus. But Jesus entertains the question. He is cordial; he does not comment on the man’s intent. And he gives something more in his answer.
Jesus picks up from the book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) something that all Jews are familiar with—the Shema. The Jews recite this prayer twice a day. The First Reading says more about the commandment. It is a command not only to hear God’s voice but also to keep and observe all his commandments. We must be obedient to God.
Then Jesus draws from the less known Leviticus (19:18) and declares, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And he adds, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe asks for the first of all the commandments; Jesus answers with two that are inseparable.
The scribe is happy with Jesus’ answer and adds his own, which the strict interpreters may not reach, “Love of God and neighbor is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” performed by the priests in the Temple.
The Second Reading recognizes Christ as a high priest (this is the only place where Christ is addressed as such) whose priesthood is superior to that of the priests in Jerusalem. Jesus’ priesthood does not pass away, while theirs dies because the Levitical priests die. Jesus practices his priesthood not in the Temple, but in heaven.
We who are baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. As priests, we are called to be number one observers of his commands.
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2018,” ST. PAULS Philippines, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: email@example.com; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.