By: Fr. Gerald Musa

Exodus 22:21-27; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

A man was offered a $100 (hundred dollars), but he noticed that the hundred-dollar bill (note) was incomplete. It was half torn and he could not use it without the second half and stitching the two parts together. In the same way, love is made up of two essential parts – love of God and love of neighbour and each of these parts is necessary to make love more meaningful.

There is so much trouble in the world today because people practice religion without love. This is because religion is reduced to laws, rubrics and rituals. Jesus observed during his ministry on earth that religious people had jettisoned love in favour of the law. The love of law overshadowed the law of love. In his diagnosis, he found out that his people were suffering from the disease of legalism and had forgotten about love which is the essence of a true religion. The effect of this disease made one of the Pharisees to ask Jesus:

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).


From this answer it is clear that Jesus did not mean to abolish or despise what the Torah (law) and the Prophets prescribe. He simply summarised the Ten Commandments into love of God and love of neighbour. Looking closely at the Ten Commandments, one would discover that the first three have to do with the human person’s relationship with God and the rest of the seven have to do with relationship between human beings. Laws are not bad in themselves and Psalm 119 rightly describes law as a path, a lamp, and as a guide leading to God. Paul says, “The law is Holy and the Commandment is Holy and Just and good (Romans 8:2). Even though the law is essentially a roadmap, we must not forget that it is a guide and not a god.

More over, Jesus demonstrated his knowledge of scripture when he quoted two passages from different sections of Scripture in summarising the Ten Commandments. The first passage from the book of Deuteronomy, contains the Jewish Creed (Shema): “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The second passage is from Leviticus 19:18: “’Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.”

Note that in summarising the commandments Jesus addresses two erroneous approaches to love. The first wrong approach is an obsession of with the love of God, which excludes other people; the second faulty approach to love is when people speak about their commitment to loving other people, but failing to mention or acknowledge God, who is the source and fountain of love. St. James makes it clear that faith without good works is useless, just as love without faith in God is sterile and without deep roots.

Apparently, the Thessalonian community combined faith and good works in the manner in which they translated love into their everyday life. Therefore, Paul commended them for becoming a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:7). This goes to show that love is not an abstract concept, but something practical. One of the famous passages that speak eloquently about practical love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

As a matter of fact, love is not just a mere feeling, but a commitment and devotion. This explains why Jesus talks about loving God with all your mind, strength, spirit and body. No doubt love is a fire that consumes, and the book of Songs says love is as fierce as death (Song of Solomon 8:6). Total commitment to love makes a lover to appear foolish and that is why a well-known proverb says, “You cannot love and be wise.” It is true to say that love requires sacrifice and demands nothing less than the entire self. No wonder Pope John Paul II says, “We eventually have to ask ourselves the question; why was love nailed to a cross?”

In the depths of our hearts we want to love everybody, but we come to realise there are people who are easier to love than others and there are people who hardly enjoy love and compassion from the society. Exodus 22 mentions a set of people who suffer discrimination and are despised by the society and these people include aliens (foreigners, strangers), widows and orphans. A widow who lost her beloved husband becomes vulnerable because she may not have someone to speak and defend her cause; the orphan is in the category of despised people because no one is able to substitute the powerful and tender love he/she enjoyed from the deceased parent(s); the stranger is often in the category of the unloved and a subject of discrimination, prejudice and suspicion. This is because the stranger’s accent is different and basically because he has a different look and different set of values. Surprisingly too a neighbour is also counted among the despised. The neighbour is not just the one who lives next door, but a neighbour is also someone who is vulnerable, unloved, uncared for, despised, and forsaken.

Love is the essence of any true religion. A committed love of God and neighbour defines the Christian religion. Let the words of the Evangelist John serve as food for reflection for us. He says, “If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen ((1 John 4:20).



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