There is no other commandment greater than these, Jesus says, after he answers the scribe who puts Him to the test. The Pharisees and scribes (two different groups but both very united against Christ who threatens their power), they both try again and again to put Jesus on the trial of public opinion and hope for Him to make a huge mistake. Every time, however, Jesus undoes their snares and today is no exception. What is the greatest commandment? Is a test to hopefully humiliate Christ so they can maintain their authority. However, this man has a heart that is more focused on God than it is on shaming Jesus, as we see in Christ's final words to the man after he responds with understanding: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." This is probably the greatest compliment Christ gives to an adversary, and it is worth noticing. If we truly understand these two truths the man says today, then we ourselves "are not far from the Kingdom of God."
So let us look at these two commandments that Jesus gives as sort of one and the same. I guess you could say it’s two for the price of one. Or better yet, it is if you want one, you gotta take them both. So here we go: First, Jesus answers with the prayer every faithful, praying Jew would have known, for it is something they recite twice a day. It is called the She'mah from the book of Deuteronomy which we heard as the first reading today. In seminary I learned to sing it in my Hebrew class. It goes like this... v'hayoo ha-d'v'rim ha-aleh asher anoki blah blah blah (I don't remember the rest, maybe because it wasn't set to music - or because I'm getting old, or because I don't recite it twice a day like a good Jew would have done!) Anyways, it was a beautiful prayer that affirmed the monotheism of the Jewish people: nothing can replace God or compare with God, so they need to live that way, loving Him with all that he deserves, which is our entire self. Thus we have the poetic repetition to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Jesus adds, by the way, with all your mind. Perhaps to speak more clearly to the audience of his time that the mind isn't excluded from the everything that God deserves from us)
The second commandment comes from Leviticus: to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is not a fuzzy feeling for Jewish people. It was much deeper. It was more closely tied to justice, to how you treated someone. Freely giving them what they deserved as human beings was loving them.
And all that comes back to God. Why they deserved anything was because of the biblical truth that we are all created in God's image and likeness. God has made us all, unrepeatably, and we must honor the truth that each of us is called to a relationship of love with Him, and thus with each other.
If we live these two truths, if we meditate on them deeply, then we are not far from the Kingdom of God. This is truly something worth modeling our lives around!
Now how do you eat a whole pie? One bite at a time, or so I hear. I’ve never actually tried to do it myself. I promise! So for us to live this 2-in-1 commandment, we should really look for one way we can make our daily lives fit more closely with what these words of our Lord require of us. How can I love God more today, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength? (Perhaps it should start with a daily examination of conscience. Five minutes each day, we can reflect back and ask "how in the last 24 hours did I love God or fail to do so?") How can I love my neighbor as myself more today? Perhaps it starts with our family or our friends or co-workers. Can I forgive the way I wish them to forgive? Whatever it may be, let us ask God to show us how to live these two lessons a little more deeply one day at a time. If we do so, we are not far from the Kingdom of God!