If you listen to today’s gospel you hear the scribe clearly ask Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” It is a bit like a student asking “what are the most important requirements for passing this course?” In other words, if I do the important things then maybe I don’t have to do all the other stuff.
If the scribe was hoping for an easy way to get through—without doing everything required for the kingdom of heaven, he was going to be disappointed. Jesus tells him very clearly that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
Like the student trying to find the shortcut, the scribe discovers in Jesus’ response that if he doesn’t do everything, he will have done virtually nothing, because he will have failed at the most important stuff.
Put simply, today’s gospel highlights the important stuff. It’s not called the Great Commandment for nothing! And if we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that we struggle to live up to the Great Commandment! After all, what person sitting in St Joseph’s or St Benedict’s today loves God with all their heart? Who loves their neighbour as themselves? If obeying these commandments is the most important thing for getting into heaven, what hope is there for anybody?
Perhaps by consciously connecting the great commandment that we hear in today’s gospel and the mass we celebrate together we may have a better chance. Recently I came across an article by Diana Macalintal where she precisely does that and it not only made real the Great Commandment but made me reflect upon what I do when I leave the doors of our Parish Churches. The challenge of the Great Commandment is:
- You shall recognise God’s presence at the altar and in the unfamiliar person seated behind you, and greet both with reverence.
- You shall hear God’s voice in the proclamation of the readings and in the cry of the infant, and you shall be attentive to both, receiving them joyfully.
- You shall love God with all your heart in the Eucharist you share, and you shall love those who eat and drink with you, for they are your fellow members in the Body of Christ.
- You shall take the love of God you have received into the world, starting with the stranger who stands alone after Mass.
If we do follow these, we shall not be far from the kingdom of God.
Fr Peter Brannelly