The Primary Command of Christians

11-04-2018Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian F. Manning

A Note of Hope and Prayer: On behalf of our Parish I sent an email-letter to Rabbi Thomas Alpert of the Temple Etz Chaim of Franklin to inform him and his community of our prayerful support in this moment of sadness and loss for them and the greater Jewish community. Anti-Semitism and prejudice are deeply against our faith. We must stand in solidarity with all Jews in this moment. I attended a special Service of Consolation and Comfort at the Temple on Sunday evening. The Franklin Interfaith Council held a Service of Comfort, Consolation and Solidarity on this past Tuesday. I was present to lead one of the prayers/readings.

Most of us have had friends who have faced difficult times. Sometimes it is a job loss and the long wait for a new position, other times it is facing a terminal illness of a loved one or even the sudden death of a son or daughter. We never quite know what to say. We know that there is very little that we can do, but we know we have to be there. That’s what friends are for - someone to turn to in times of trouble and need, someone who is with you so that you are not alone.

Recall that the Book of Deuteronomy is a book of civil and religious laws; its main purpose is to show how to live as God’s people. We need to understand that fearing God is not the same as being afraid. It is more about how we love, respect, and uphold God in our lives. The Shema prayer of Orthodox Jews is based on the Deuteronomy reading: “Hear, O Israel.” The devout Jews who recite the prayer every morning are professing their love for God, obedience to God, and also the call to pass on the love of God to their children. God commanded that these words are always to be remembered and passed on to future generations.

Our Gospel passage reiterates the primary command of Christians to love God. Jesus was asked by a scribe to name the greatest commandment. Some scribes asked Jesus questions hoping to entrap him, but many other scribes asked questions because they wanted the life Jesus offered. Scholars interpret that this scribe acted in good faith and genuinely wondered which, of all the laws, Jesus found the most important. His response was insightful and clear. In according with Deuteronomy, Jesus told the scribe, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He then went on to define the second most important commandment to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Jesus meant that our neighbors are all other people, not just the people in the house beside us. When Jesus recognized that the scribe understood all that he had said, he assured the man that if he believed and practiced what was just said, the scribe was very close to the reign of God.

The laws God gives us are ways and understanding for how to live. God doesn’t want us to obey the laws out of fear. They are given to us in love and built on a relationship of trust and respect. We turn to God because of God’s love, not because of some negative emotion. Note that Jesus takes the holy law one step further than the law described in Deuteronomy. He says that we are to love our neighbor. He does not place any distinctive or qualifying words that define neighbor or love. Essentially and clearly his message is this: in order to show our love for God, we must show that love through the way we take care of our neighbors, especially in their most vulnerable moments.

Fr. Brian