Anyone who has gone for an interview knows the problem of summarizing. On the one hand, the summary could tell the potential employer something you didn’t want to share for fear of misinterpretation. On the other hand, the summary could well represent your background and let the potential employer that you are the ideal person for the job. The value of the summary lies in its content and motivation.
In today’s Gospel (Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus is asked by the Pharisees to summarize the multiple applications of the Law. The task was made more difficult by making the request ever more specific. That is, “Which commandment is the greatest?” This was intended to be a trick question.
Jesus’ response is basically biblical in order to give his answer more authority. To “love God completely” is taken from the famous Shema prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4ff. The second part of the answer comes from Leviticus 19:18 (“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself….”). The focus in this entire response is the use of the word “love.” In the Bible, the word “love” was not just an emotional experience but a concrete action as well. One proved love by doing something about it.
That is, the total acknowledgement of summarizing the Law was, for Jesus, the loving of God and the loving of neighbor– together. One proved it by example. Loving God completely meant that there were no reservations. Loving the neighbor as oneself meant the same as the golden rule.
The “neighbor” is not just the person next door nor one of my acquaintences, but, rather, everyone else, especially the so-called social “outsider.” It seems that one of the most effective ways of loving God and neighbor is to examine the Bible carefully and find examples there of how it is done.
Jesus was very careful in what he said. His response was biblically based as ours should be if we are asked tricky questions.