Two For One

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Illustration by Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. Used with permission.

When Jesus is asked for the number one commandment, he gives two.  

The first—love God with everything you’ve got—is nothing new. Jesus quotes an ancient text, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Pious Jews would have recited this verse twice a day their whole lives. They drilled these words into their children, bound them to their wrists and their foreheads, wrote them on their doorposts (Deut 7–9). Everyone knew this was number one.  

When Jesus offers a second commandment, he calls up a verse buried in the book of Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Lev 19:18). This too was nothing new. When Rabbi Hillel, a generation before Jesus, was asked to summarize the Torah, he famously answered, “What you yourself hate, do not do to your neighbors: this is the whole Law, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”  

Neither of these commandments is original to Jesus. What is new is the way he links the two verses together. Our worship and praise of God cannot be separated from our care and concern for others.  

The scribe gets it. And when he too links love of God with love of neighbor, Jesus stuns the crowd into silence by saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” As the culmination of a series of confrontations, Jesus defeats his adversaries by demonstrating his love of God through his love of this neighbor.  

© Liturgical Press.

Edward P. Hahnenberg

Edward P. Hahnenberg, PhD, is the author of Theodore Hesburgh: Bridge Builder, Theology for Ministry: An Introduction for Lay Ministers, and other titles. He is the Breen Chair in Catholic Theology at John Carroll University

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