The Heart of Christianity

We have Ten Commandments. It isn’t easy to follow all ten. Sometimes we struggle with just one. Imagine what it would be like to follow 613 commandments. Why 613? Because that is how many the Jews were taught in the Old Testament.

Where does one begin? In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked “which commandment of the law is the greatest.” In this passage, Jesus is asked the question as a “test.” However, it is a fair question. Where do we start?

One might presume that the answer would be found among the Ten Commandments. However, Jesus does not answer with one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” While this is not one of the Ten Commandments, it is found in the Bible in Deuteronomy 6:5. The verb in this verse is “love.” The greatest commandment requires us to love. Who are we to love? God! How much are we to love? With all our heart, soul, and mind. In short, we are to love God with our whole being. God must be first in our lives or we fall short of the greatest commandment.

If we are to love God this much, we are to love what God has created. This is why Jesus adds, “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are called to love our neighbor as the second greatest commandment. This too is not found among the Ten Commandments. Yet, it too is found in the Bible in Leviticus 19:18.

Before continuing, a clarification is in order. I said the two greatest commandments as spoken by Jesus are not found in the Ten Commandments. The two greatest commandments do not match any one particular one of the Ten Commandments. How does this fit with Jesus saying He comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17). The two greatest commandments encapsulate the Ten Commandments. The greatest commandment to love God encapsulates the first three commandments to worship only the one true God, to not take his name in vain, and to the keep the Sabbath holy. We do all these because we love God.

Then, the second greatest commandment, loving our neighbor, encapsulates #4 – 10 commandments. If we love our neighbor we do not kill them, commit adultery, steal from them, or covet their property.

The Ten Commandments are tools to help us love God and to love our neighbor.

What does it mean to love?

Probably the first thing that comes to mind with love is the love of a man and a woman as a husband and wife. In a different way, we love our family. We can also love our friends because of a deep connection we develop with them. Yet, we do not have to know someone personally to love them as God calls us to love our neighbor. We are love even the complete stranger as our neighbor (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37).

We do not love a stranger in the same way we love a spouse, family, or close friend. The love we are called to have for everyone starts with seeing them as a child of God (whether they know they are a child of God or not). It is not based on what they look like, what they can do, the language they speak, or where they are from. It is based on the dignity that God gives to each and every single human being. It calls us to respect everyone, whether we agree with them or not. We must not look at externals. Samuel learns in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 that God does not just by outward appearance. God looks into the heart (see verse 7).

Is our heart always filled with love?

Unfortunately, no. Our hearts can have anger in them. As Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, if we hold anger in our hearts, we “will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-36, especially verse 21) for violating the Fifth Commandment. This is why anger is one of the seven deadly sins (see my recent article, “Who’s in Control: Your Anger or You?” and my article, “Anger” from 2010).

Oh boy! What are we to do if we have anger in our heart? Let go of the hurt, forgive the other person, and confess our anger to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God is the one who can heal us but only when we hand our sin over to him.

Anger is just one example of sin. The list goes on. In all cases, the fix is the same. If we have been hurt by another person, we need to let go of the hurt, confess our own part in sin to God, and ask God to heal us, to reconcile us to him (Hence, the name Sacrament of Reconciliation).

Returning to the greatest commandment, loving God. We are not perfect. God is. God’s love is evidenced in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus shows us how absolute his love for us when He gives his life on the Cross for us for as we read in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

As to loving our neighbor, it starts with respect, respecting every single person as a child of God, created in his image (Genesis 1:26). It does not mean we are everyone’s best friend. It does not mean we agree with them on everything. It does not mean we ignore their sin. In fact, if we love them, we are to help them see God’s Truth (see the Parable of the Watchman in Ezekiel 3:17-21 and John 8:32the truth will set you free“). Even this must be done in love, not judgment. We are called to hate the sin but love the sinner.

Lord, I do not love as I should. Please help me to love as you love me.


Fr. Jeff

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