Which is the first commandment of all?” Mark 12:28

“Jesus answered him, ‘The first commandment is Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.  This is the first commandment. And the second like it is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31

This exchange, the question and the answer is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In two of the cases, the religious leaders, those who are supposed to be the most knowledgeable ask Jesus to try and trap Him: What is the greatest commandment?  (Matthew and Mark)  In Luke, it is a lawyer, again a learned man of the people, who asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.  What I think is important to point out at this juncture is that those who are asking expect that there is one primary thing; one greatest commandment, one primary way to earn eternal life.  Jesus, as the Christ, the One true Son of God, who was with the Father from the beginning, who knew every word that preceded out of Mouth of the Father was uniquely qualified, and in fact the only One, truly qualified to answer this question.  Thus it is extremely important that we heed His response.

For Jesus Christ makes it clear to, not only the ones who ask the question, He pauses in Mark and calls our for all of Israel to listen and in that same way is calling to You and I to be attentive and listen today.  There is not just one commandment but there are two commandments that we must abide by.  There are two commandments which are the only way to truly have eternal life.  There are two commandments on which all the rest of the laws of and teachings of the prophets are built on.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now understand, Jesus taught about considerably more.  Jesus taught about not becoming angry, loving our enemies, not lusting, not worrying, honoring father and mother and much, much more.  Yet all that He taught was based on the two commandments that came from His and, through Him, Our Heavenly Father.  Love God with all your being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Also realize how consistent this is.  For Jesus is not giving an unheard of commandment here.  Loving the Lord Your God with our entire being is layed out in Deuteronomy 6:4 and loving your neighbor as yourself is stated in Leviticus 19:18

Another of the most classic parables is taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke after He gives His answer.  For the lawyer isn’t done testing Jesus.  So the lawyer continues to examine Jesus by asking Him the question: “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers with oft quoted story of the Good Samaritan.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; as I write this, there are five families grieving the loss of their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends who were police officers slain in a mass shooting.  In the days leading up to this we’ve witnessed the tragic deaths of civilians slain in interactions with police.  That is sadly only one manifestation of the opposite of love; hate, which is racking our neighborhoods, our country, our world.  Out of hate, people are walking into schools, nightclubs and yes, even churches and carrying our merciless killings.  Out of hate people are strapping explosives to themselves or driving vehicles packed with explosives and detonating themselves, killing scores in some twisted philosophy of service, which is truly only a service to evil.

If that was not tragic enough, much more often now, the response to these spasms of mayhem and hate is to build rage and hate in response, believing that acts of hate in response are justified in a sense of eye for an eye.  Our Heavenly Father, in the Old Testament declaring that vengeance was His and His alone,  as well as Jesus Christ’s teachings about how we should treat and love our enemies is diametrically opposed to those who feel that hate and rage in return for hate and rage is justified and worst yet, somehow righteous behavior.

Finally, Dear Sisters and Brothers, we will not be able to, can not achieve the level of love, spoken of by Jesus on our own.  We must understand that we can only love in that manner if we first call out to and accept the love that comes from Our Heavenly Father, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t build or come upon this love ourselves but are vessels to hold, return to God and spread to others,  the love that comes from Above.

So let us pray, constantly, deeply to first receive that love and then to spread that love.  Let not the shrill voices of hate, vengeance and retribution, distract or dissuade us from seeking and showing love.  Let us call upon the promise of Jesus Christ, that as we abide in Him, we can do greater things; that is to say, we can show greater love, we can be greater examples of selfless and merciful love even than He did during His time here.  Let us not grow weary of saying “I love you”, especially to those who seem to be the least willing to hear it or least likely to accept it.  That in being beacons of His Love, we will bring ever present praise and glory to His Most Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely admit we are dismayed and confounded by the level of hate and the extreme amount of damage that hate is causing in this world.  We first call upon Your Love to be poured out on this world and especially upon us who seek Your most Holy Name.  Pour out Your Strength, allowing us to fulfill Your commandment to love You first and then love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us to see and define “our neighbor” as You define for us truly who and where our neighbor is.  Finally, use us to be bold in showing love and allowing that love to be triumphant over any and all hate that comes against it.  That the world would see You as the God of Triumphant Love that You Are and sing forth praises to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.