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Listen and Love

by Jun 6, 2024Friar Reflection

The question posed to Jesus in today’s gospel seems trivial to us. Why so much concern about which commandment is important? For the people of Jesus’ time, it would have been a very important question because they had a huge number of commandments, regulations, doctrine, and rules about daily life, holiness, ritual, work, interpersonal relations, condemnation, and diet. Plus, in addition to all the rules, there were more books and volumes written regarding the interpretations of all those rules.

In response to the scribe’s question, Jesus simply returns to the first covenant which God gave to the people of Israel through Moises. The first commandment is LISTEN. This refers to a lifelong attitude, not just a single moment of hearing. “Listen” means living as a disciple with the ear open to God’s prompting and living being open to being guided: listening to the Word of God, listening to the tradition and customs, listening to the actions and promptings of the Spirit. This is the commandment that comes just before the Ten Commandments. This is a prerequisite to having faith and having a good relationship with God and others.

Our modern lives are so full of noise and material things that they lead us to concentrate our lives on ourselves. There is no space, time, or capacity to listen to God or others because we are so full of noise, full of ourselves.

Once we have the attitude of listening, Jesus adds love God and love neighbor. Jesus sums up everything in the Old Testament and everything that had been added by the volumes of interpretations with those two imperatives. We know from the other Gospels that Jesus further explained that we should not limit the concept of neighbor. Jesus’ mandate to love God and love the other has no limits, no distinctions. This is a wide open, unconstrained, unconditional love towards God and the other. In comparison we tend to be stingy with our love. We tend to restrict our love and set up conditions.

Now what really hits me every time I read of this encounter between the scribe and Jesus is the very last part. This particular scribe agrees with all that Jesus says which implies a life of self-denial and unconditional love of God and of the other. Then Jesus does not say to him, as one would expect: You have arrived. You got it. You’re in the Kingdom of God. Rather he says: You are not far from the Kingdom of God. Unconditional love of God and of the other is just the beginning of a Christian life of service! Christian life and the Kingdom of God are seen in unconditional love of God and the other and in living the Cross.

Hear, O Israel!

The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.