Most of those present (being pharisees) would have expected Jesus to say that the greatest commandment is the observation of the Sabbath, their holy day. The next question would have obviously been, then, “So why don’t you observe it?” But again, Jesus does not fall into their trap, and he cites something which they knew very well. He quotes the “Listen Israel”, which the Jews knew like we know the Our Father or the Hail Mary. They recited it more than once a day, and it says, “You must love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your heart”. Without being asked, then, Jesus adds that the second one is similar: love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus puts these two commandments on a par. It’s interesting to note that here Jesus goes beyond their Law. The only times love is mentioned in the 613 precepts are to love God (4), to love other Jews (13), to love converts (14) and to love the missionary (37). Jesus introduces the love of neighbour. And we remember that when once someone asked him who is my neighbour he gave them the parable of the good Samaritan. This must have been quite a shock to his listeners. No one would have imagined that an enemy (and a very hated one at that!) should be considered a neighbour worthy of one’s love.
Throughout his ministry Jesus never taught anyone to obey the law. His concern was, rather, that we become more like God. He wanted to help us live up to the fact that we are created in God’s own image. Of course, the law is there to help us in this. As he said, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to perfect it”.
God is Love, Saint John tells us. The two words, God and Love, are interchangeable. Jesus is the human expression of this divine Love. My life as a follower of Jesus has to be modelled on his love. Some of his final words were a reminder that we should “do this” in his memory when he was about to give up his life, and to do as he did, when he washed his disciples’ feet (including those of Judas the traitor!).
No wonder he puts the two commandments together. Loving God with my whole being must necessarily lead me to love my neighbour unconditionally, irrespective of who he or she is or of what they have done.
“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus concludes. Indeed, on these commandments depend everything for us.