The greatest commandment
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila (The Freeman) - October 25, 2020 - 12:00am

It is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time and our gospel reading comes from Matt.22:34-40 regarding the greatest commandment.

“34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

“37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We are talking about the Shema Yisrael (a prayer prayed by all Devout Jews from sunrise to Sunset) is a Jewish prayer, and is also the first two words of a section of the Torah, and is the title of a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.

We learned that the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day often fought over the relative importance of commandments. Some held the view that observing the Sabbath was the most important of all commandments. Others valued circumcision over all else. Still others would have believed, as many modern Jews do today, that the most important commandment is found in Deuteronomy in 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

So when a lawyer asks Jesus to weigh in on the question, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest”, he might be asking Jesus to pick sides in an already contentious debate.

Yet Jesus plunges into a new area of insight by answering not only which commandment is the greatest, but how people might go about fulfilling it. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” Jesus says, and then he adds a second commandment, from Leviticus 19:18 “love your neighbor as yourself,” which he joins with the first commandment by saying it is “like it.”

Through Jesus’ logic, loving God is linked inextricably to loving other people. John echoes this statement when he says, “If anyone says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

Work is a primary way through which we love other people. Our workplaces are often the places where we encounter the widest diversity of people, and their nearness to us day after day gives us the unique challenge of loving people who are different from ourselves. We also love others through our work when our work meets the important needs of customers or other stakeholders. For more examples see “Our Work Fulfills the Great Commandment” and “The Good Samaritan at Work--Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself”

However Jesus not only commands us to love others but to love others as we love our own selves. What does this look like in the workplace? It looks like a cook double-checking the internal temperature of a hamburger after someone says “Does that look all right to you,” because that’s what she would do if cooking the hamburger for herself. It looks like a sales clerk calling over a more-experienced colleague when a customer asks a question he is not sure he knows the answer to—rather that giving an answer he thinks is right—because he would want that information himself before buying. It looks like a mechanic stripping apart the brake job he just completed because he heard a strange noise and that’s what he would do before driving his own car. It looks like a businessman asking his colleagues, “Is it possible we’re not taking her seriously enough because she’s a woman?” knowing that he would want a colleague to stand up for him when he’s being misunderstood.

These are small examples, yet each of them may come at a price. All of our labor has the potential to serve, and therefore love, our neighbors. But to love a neighbor, as yourself, may require taking risks that we would surely take in order to serve our own ends, but which loom large when undertaken only for the benefit of someone else. It is truly a high bar, and perhaps that is why Jesus joins “love your neighbor as yourself” with “love the Lord” in the Great Commandment.

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