Loving God, Loving Neighbour | Daily Office Devotional 2021/8/19

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

According to the John the Evangelist,

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 Jn. 4.20-21).

John maintains that the first and the second great commandments are inextricably linked. He recognises that talk is cheap and anyone can say they love God, so such a confession can only be proved when one shows actual love for their brothers or sisters. That is because God cannot be seen by us, but our brothers and sisters who are created in the image of God can. If we are unable to love those who bear the image of God—the visible “representation” of God—then it is improbable we actually love God at all!

Here, there is no confusion of priority. Loving God remains primary, but John is saying that when we truly love God (who loves us), then we will certainly have love for our brothers and sisters as well. The former will never be without the latter.

However, this love for “neighbour” is not merely limited to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Luke chapter 10, when Jesus instructed a lawyer about the two great commandments, the lawyer asked him, “And who is my neighbour?” So, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan in response, indicating that his question was wrong-headed. For someone who has the love of God, the right question would always be, “who can I be a neighbour to?” In other words, to understand the second great commandment is to have a heart that loves others without discrimination. That extends even to one’s enemies (Lk. 6.27)!

By no means was Jesus all talk and lacking in action. Talk is cheap, but Jesus himself demonstrated true love for God and neighbour when he went to the cross. He loved his Father and obeyed his will unto death (Mk. 14.23); he loved even his enemies when he asked his Father to forgive his persecutors while he hung dying (Lk. 23.34). He perfectly loved God and neighbour. May God grant us the grace to love as Jesus did. If there are people whom we find unloveable, then may his Holy Spirit soften our hearts so we may love even them.

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