One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared ask him any more questions.
The first commandment begins with the admonishment to listen: Hear, O Israel! When Israel listened to God, she was guided by His wisdom and was blessed. When Israel failed to listen to God, she fell into sin and idolatry and lost her way. When we listen to God, we gain knowledge and understanding of His will for our lives.
How do we hear what God has to say to us? The best way, I think, is to read the Scriptures in prayer. Being the word of God, the Scriptures have a unique quality. They are both the revealed word of God to the entire world, and to the Church in particular. And, when we reflect on the Scriptures in prayer, they are the word of God spoken to each of us today.
This passage from the Gospel According to Mark, for instance: it is both God’s revelation to the world about Jesus the teacher, confirming God’s greatest commandment to love Him and to love others. The Church is at her best when she reflects on this word and acts on it. But, it is not only a word spoken to the world and to the Church. It is a word spoken to me, to each of us. It is a reminder that the greatest commandment for me is to love God and love others. Reflecting, listening to the word in this way makes it more than mere theory, more than a nice story about Jesus having a dialogue with a scribe who possesses such an understanding of God’s law that Jesus Himself declares him not far from the kingdom. It is a call to action for me today, in my place in this world.
What place does God hold in my life? Do I truly love Him? Do I put Him first? Jesus did not say to love God partially, as one among the many other people and things we love throughout our lives. He said to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength. Does that leave any love for others? Surprisingly (or, maybe not) when I do so, I learn that loving God with my all does not diminish my love for others, or for myself, but increases it. There is plenty of love left with which to love my neighbor and myself. In fact, there is more now. God expands our ability to love, and our desire to love, because in loving God we love One Who is eternal.
How does this play out in my daily life? Putting others first might be a good place to start. God is present to us in those who are present in our lives. I recall the line from the musical Les Miserable: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” No, this is not Scripture. But, I think it catches the essence of the Scriptures, of what Jesus is trying to teach us today in this passage from Mark’s Gospel. Love means to give of one’s self for the sake of the other. When we do that, we imitate Christ, Who gave Himself for the whole world. “Greater love than this has no man, than to give his life that another might live” (John 15:13). I do not think that only means dying for another, though it certainly does mean that. It also means to dedicate one’s life for the sake of others, even if only for our family (because, let’s face it, sometimes they’re the hardest ones to love!).
This does not mean we are each called to be a Mother Teresa. It does mean that we are each called to love those God puts in our lives today, and every day. We can begin by simply doing the small things that put others first: allowing another ahead of us in traffic; making room for others in the aisle at the store; doing the dishes at home when we do not have to because it is somebody else’s turn; putting down the book, or the magazine, or the cell phone, or the video game and really listening to what someone else is saying. Small sacrifices done out of love prepare us for larger ones. Who knows? Maybe someday we will be called to make the ultimate sacrifice. If we are, it is the small sacrifices done every day for the sake of others that will have prepared us.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.