sabato 28 ottobre 2017

«Mandatum magnum»

The controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees continue. This time a scholar of the law, that is, a scribe puts Jesus to the test, asking him about a question rather common among rabbis at that time: “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”—literally, “Which is the great commandment (mandatum magnum) in the law?” Why did rabbis discuss this issue? Because they enumerated a good 613 precepts in the Bible. We have had a sample of these precepts in the first reading. So, it was understandable for rabbis to discover which was the greatest commandment. Evidently, they also had problems with catechesis: how to teach people so many commandments? It was absolutely necessary to focus on the essentials. It is true that, among the more than six hundred precepts, there are the ten commandments given by God to Moses; but they are still ten. Is it not possible to find one commandment which can summarize the other ones and on which all others depend?

Jesus replies citing not one, but two commandments taken from the old testament. They do not belong to the Decalogue; the first of them is from the book of Deuteronomy, and the second one from Leviticus. Both of them order us to love—in the first case, God; in the second case, the neighbor. A first objection we could raise is: how can love be commanded? Love is a spontaneous feeling, which appears and disappears without us willing it. Well, that is exactly the love which these two commandments do not order, because this kind of love does not depend on us. It is easy to love someone, when we feel affection for them. The problem is to love someone we do not like. As well as it is very difficult to love someone we do not see, like God.

And yet, the “great and first commandment” in the law says: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” As you can see, we are not requested to love with our feelings, but with all our self—heart, soul and mind. In the Bible, to love God means to be faithful to his covenant, that is to say, to observe his commandments, to do his will. The apostle John puts it very clearly in the first of his letters: “The love of God is this, that we keep his commandments” (1Jn 5:3).

That is why Jesus adds a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Please notice, we are not requested to love our neighbor as a mother loves her children or a young man loves his girlfriend. To love, in this case, means to work for the good of others. Saint Paul says in the letter to the Romans: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm 13:9-10). So, the second commandment of the law is a summary of all other commandments. And Jesus combines it with the first commandment so that we may know how to love God: we love God by loving our neighbor.

This does not mean that the two commandments are interchangeable or coincide with each other. We cannot confuse God with his creatures. We can see how the “measure” of the two loves is different: we have to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; instead, we have to love our neighbor as ourselves. If the two commandments are not interchangeable, nonetheless, they are inseparable. Which means: there cannot be true love of God without love of neighbor; as well as there cannot be true love of neighbor without love of God. We do not know whether it was Jesus the first to combine the two commandments or whether others had already joined them together. But it is not so important; what really matters is that, if we want to please God and be saved, we have to love both God and neighbor—God in the neighbor and the neighbor in God.