Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matthew 22:37)
Jesus was answering a question by a Pharisee lawyer who asked him, “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” The Pharisees were pious Jews who prided themselves on their knowledge and observance of God’s laws. But they had heard about Jesus’ preaching, and they were concerned that some of his ideas did not agree with the way they interpreted the Torah, the book of God’s laws.
So the Gospel tells us that this question was to test Jesus, to see if he was teaching the Jewish religion as the Pharisees understood it. It was a time when the Jews seem to have divided themselves into different groups called sects, each with their own beliefs about sin, reward and punishment, purity, the World to Come, and how to carry out the laws given by God. In fact, Jesus had just had an argument with the Sadducees, a sect that the Pharisees had many quarrels with, so they were particularly anxious to hear his views. They may have hoped that he would help them to persuade other Jews to follow their ways.
Jesus’ answer was a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that any Jew would have considered very important. Deuteronomy is the last of the Five Books of Moses, and this quotation formed a part of daily worship for the Jews of that time and still does today. It is meant to teach us that in sincerely loving God, our Creator and the Provider of all our blessings, we would naturally seek to live our lives in the good and holy way that He had commanded.
But Jesus was not going to be satisfied with an answer to a question about one great commandment. He went on immediately to say that “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
The passage about loving one’s neighbor was from the Book of Leviticus, the third of the Five Books of Moses. Jesus was telling the lawyer, the Pharisees, and all who were listening then and now, that love of God and love of our fellow human being are two sides of the same coin. One who loves God and desires to follow His will must also love those God made in His own image and treat them accordingly.
Jesus knew all the Biblical passages about honoring parents, giving to the poor, being kind to widows, orphans and strangers, even helping one’s enemies, not lying, and not saying bad things about other people. What Jesus was teaching was that the laws God had given were not just a list of do’s and don’ts, but that they formed a religion of love, love for God and for His children. He was saying that you shouldn’t think you can obey the great commandment, to love God, without obeying the second commandment like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.
How about loving God? Is that easy to do? We have to try our best to live as we have been taught He wants us to. But we get many more chances to love our neighbor: we can give a hand to someone who needs help, do community service, give money or food to the poor, visit the sick, or just say a kind word to someone having a bad day. By doing this, as Jesus taught, we’re also loving God.