Gospel Reflection – The Greatest Commandment

The Greatest Commandment

One of the scribes, who were recognised as the experts in the laws of religion, put a question to Jesus.  “Which is the first of the commandments?”  This was a question frequently debated among those legal scholars.  Was there any particular law that summed up the whole meaning or intention of religion?  In his reply Jesus did not quote any law but a prayer that the Jews pray every morning.  “Listen, Israel.  The Lord our God is the one Lord.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Then he added a second instruction.  “You must love your neighbour as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Religious laws were intended to be pointers to total love of God and the practical expression of that love in the way that we respect people, beginning with ourselves.

Warped religion is dangerous

It’s no harm to remember that the people who plotted the death of Jesus were the religious leaders. When religion gets warped it is very dangerous.  People have been burnt at the stake and wars fought in the name of religion.  People have become bitter bigots, or deeply hurt by harsh legalism, or driven to scrupulosity by the concept of a severe, judgemental God.  It is important to enjoy the loving, merciful God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.  Loving with all your heart recognises God as the driving energy of life.  All your soul makes God the desire of your eternal spirit.  “My soul is thirsting for you, my God” (Ps. 62).  All your mind means making space for God in personal prayer each day.  All your strength directs you into practical works of charity.

The Trinity of Love

The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity reveals that the inner life of God is about interpersonal relationships of love   Think of it as a circle or a triangle.   We are offered three aspects of love in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: love given, loved received and love returned.

God the Father, the source of all life, loved me into life.  I was first a thought in the beautiful mind of God before ever I was spoken into life.   As Saint Paul said, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it” (Eph. 2:10).  A friend gave me what I consider a little work of art: a simple line-drawing of a little boy, arms resting on a table, looking out with this message underneath: I know I am somebody ‘cos God don’t make no junk.  The grammar ain’t good but the message is brilliant.  You are God’s creation and God never made junk.

Accepting forgiveness

People drift away from God but God does not drift from us.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Jesus is the face of mercy.  He sat with the sinners and shared food with them.  What we have to learn is how to accept forgiveness, how to enjoy God’s love.  The most wonderful of the parables is the Prodigal Son, the story of a merciful Father who hugs us back and calls for a celebration. The seven sacraments are celebrations of God’s presence at the key moments of life.  The sacrament of Reconciliation should never be a tribunal of enquiry or a scene of harsh legalism, but a celebration of God’s hug of forgiveness.

The transforming Spirit

This sacrament was initiated when the Risen Lord breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven.  Whose sins you retain they are retained” (John 20:23).  Retaining means telling someone who has no intention of giving up some serious sin that he/she is blocking God’s desire to forgive.

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God and divine life within us.  The Holy Spirit is the power of God’s love transforming us into agents of God’s love to other people.  The proof of our love of God is how we respect and care for other people.

Love your neighbour

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Too many people are unable to begin that programme because they have very low self-esteem.  People with low self-esteem will be negative towards others too.  People with a low level of self-value tend to take themselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.  Mary, in the Magnificat got it right.  “He has looked on his servant in her lowliness.  The Almighty works marvels for me.”  She shared the insight of the Psalmist: “I thank you, Lord, for the wonder of my being.”  Failure to love oneself is an insult to God’s work of art.  The greatest source of healthy self-esteem is to glimpse even a little of the immense love of God for us.  True self-love is not a preoccupation with self but the joy that comes from knowing God the Father as our Maker, the Son as our merciful Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier.  Awareness of our own importance in God’s eyes will spur us into respect and care for all others.


Inspired by the words of the gospel, we pray.

May the Church avoid a web of legalism which obscures the joy and love of true religion.

May the lives of Christians today resemble the early Christian community when pagan writers remarked how these Christian love one another.

May our appreciation of God’s love for us inspire us to treat others with deep respect as God’s beloved children

May the thought that we are God’s work of art sustain our hope in these difficult times.

O God, our loving Father, we thank you for creating us in love.  May it be our joy to pass on your love to others.  Through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap

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