The Two Greatest Commandments in the Law

“The Two Greatest Commandments”

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

The Two Greatest Commandments in the Law
(15thSunday after Pentecost – Mt. 22:34-36)

The greatest commandment

“Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” This question was very important for the Jews, because they had so many commandments in the law, more than five hundred. And they had to follow them all. Now we consider ourselves very pious if we keep the Ten Commandments. And many Christians even do not know the Ten Commandments. And who remembers the Commandments of the Church? How many are they? Who remembers them? Only eight!

The answer of Jesus was clear: the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. Notice the three “alls”: all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. If you really love, your love cannot be half your heart, half your soul and half your mind. To love is to give oneself totally to the beloved one. We read in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord said: this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, but their hearts are far from me” (29:13).

The second commandment, says Jesus, is like the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. In his first Epistle, S. John explains that to prove to ourselves that we keep the first and greatest commandment, to know that our Love for God is real and sincere, the only way is to ask ourselves if we keep the second commandment, if we really and sincerely love our neighbor. If not we are liars. He writes:

“Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that he has given us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21)

If we love God we prove our love by keeping his commandments.

It is sometimes difficult to follow the commandments of God. We do not live the Gospel of Christ, that is all there is to it. We say: Oh, Christ doesn’t mean this or that!” But Christ does mean that and this and all the things we don’t want to take in. All the things we want to discard are frightening. I was just reading the other day that 75 per cent of the people disagree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, sex and some other issues. That is an awful lot of people who disagree. And all along Christ is watching this happen. Sometimes I think we make Christ cry, I really do; because he is human, he can cry. And I think we make Christ cry because we don’t live by His way and His commandments.

In his first interview since his election, Pope Benedict told Vatican radio he hoped young people would see Christianity as fresh nourishment for modern living rather than a stale spiritual meal warmed up repeatedly for the past 2,000 years. He said: “I want to show them it is beautiful to be a Christian. Many people think Christianity is a bunch of rules, prohibitions, and dogmas you have to follow, and therefore it is a heavy load”.

The essence of Christianity is the encounter with God to allow Him to enter our very depths. Remember that God loved us first, and that our religion is truly a love affair between God and us, us and God; it is not merely a system of morals and dogmas.

To live the Gospel is painful

You cannot live the Gospel of Christ without pain. Christ was the greatest revolutionary on earth. He calls you to the impossible.

Are you willing to be totally poor, in spirit or otherwise? Are you able to hope when every hope is gone? Can you love when you are not loved? Can you love your enemies as did Christ on the Cross, when he said: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Can you continue to have faith when all around you faith is disappearing? Love those who hate you! Renew the faith of those who have lost it. Bring hope and love to everybody! For this you have been created. And you have to do it, because the time is so short.

Pope Benedict XVI said also: “The ways of the Lord are not comfortable. But we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good”.

How can we see God?

Jesus calls us today to be sincere in our love for God and for our neighbor. And if we keep His commandment, we will be happy, we will reach the fullness of our being, because God will come to us and dwell in us. We read in the first Epistle of St. John: “Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him” (1 John 3:24). At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his apostles: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). One apostle asked him: “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered: “If anyone loves me he will keep my commandment, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him” (John 14:23).

Sometimes we ask: can we really see God? And how? The answer of Jesus is that God is not a being to be seen outside us. He manifests Himself to us only if we keep His commandments, because God is not an immobile and motionless being. He is Love, and Love is relationship. That is what we mean when we say that God is a person, and that there are three persons in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery of the Trinity means that we are related to God by a triple relationship of love: God is our Creator, and our Savior, and our Sanctifier. He has created us out of love; he has saved us out of love; and he sanctifies us out of love. By keeping the two commandments love of God and love of our neighbor, we deepen our relation to Him: we live as children of God the Father, we live as saved by our Savior Jesus Christ, and we live in the holiness sanctified by the Holy Spirit.


O Lord, to You I come for shelter, teach me to obey Your will, for You are my God!” Help me to love you with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind, and to love all my neighbors, friends and enemies, as myself.