First reading: Ex. 22:20–26
Thus says the LORD: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.
“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”
Second reading: 1 Th. 1:5c–10
Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.
Gospel: Mt. 22:34–40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall 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 is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
In other words
by Fr. Simon Boiser, SVD (Germany)
A man goes to daily Mass, joins pilgrimages, and is active in parish activities. But some parishioners complain that this man is a tyrant at home to his family and treats his workers badly. He will certainly claim to love God. This man feels he loves God even though he neglects to love his neighbor. On the other hand, there is a woman who no longer goes to church. She believes that she is automatically loving God by serving others. She gives importance to charity without needing to have a personal relationship with God.
The man and woman mentioned above may fail to respond to what Jesus asks in today’s Gospel. Their response partly fulfills the greatest commandment. Jesus says that loving God is the first and greatest commandment. From that relationship with God, the second commandment of loving others and yourself gets its meaning and importance. The two loves are not meant to be conflicting.
During Jesus’ time, there were 613 laws and precepts governing every aspect of human behavior, from washing one’s hands to eating certain animals. All these enslaved most Jews. The religious laws were so many that they often tried to distinguish the more important from the less important. Jesus takes two commandments from two books, i.e., Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, knits them together as one, and promotes them as top commandment. They summarize the Ten Commandments and the other Old Testament laws. By fulfilling these two commands, a person keeps all the others. If one truly loves God and his neighbor, he will naturally keep the commandments.
There is a particular order between these commandments: loving God comes first, then loving others as yourself comes second. St. Thomas Aquinas asked why we should love in a certain order: whether we should prefer those closest to us, whether we should love children or parents more, and so on. His answer: not all loves are equal. Some have priority, at least in some circumstances. It might be easy enough to love God, but the simple test of whether we do it or not is how we love or relate to our brothers and sisters. It might be easy with our blood relatives, but what about the widow, orphan, and poor?
Once love becomes our fundamental option or guiding paradigm, it will guide us amidst the complexities of our relationships in life. Godly love draws the whole person, intellect, will, emotions, and beliefs. It helps us love the right persons or things in the right way. Paradoxically, by giving God all our love, our heart is enlarged to love many others in boundlessly generous and inclusive ways.