Tucked away within a series of parables is this gem, a corner stone of the message of Jesus. Jesus is faced with a challenge to his teaching authority. First it was with the Sadducees, the elite supporters of the priestly cast, then it was the Pharisees, the legal experts. Jesus’ answer goes straight to the truth of the matter of the commandments – single and clear: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your entire mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
• Love God
• Love your neighbour
We are not asked to have affection for each other, only to work for the good of the other, no matter what that person is like. These two commandments are complementary and inseparable. In other words, it is not possible to love God and not love the neighbour and vice versa. Love is the focus of the 10 Commandments.
He goes on to denounce the scribes and Pharisees for tying burdens on the people. The Pharisees and Sadducees had missed this spirit, the essence of the commandments and the Law. They focussed on the “fine print”. Pope Francis in a 2014 homily, challenged us all to remove the Pharisee from within ourselves. The Pharisee who knew how to ask the right question but could not accept the answer. In fact, the scholars of the Jewish law in Jesus’ day were so wrapped up in doctrine as an end in itself, rather than the means to an end, a pathway to God.
Decades ago, in outback Australia, in a large Catholic boy’s boarding school, the principal had to deal with a major bullying problem – the older boys over the younger boys. The bullies knew the system, they stayed within the rules and regulations. The Principal called an assembly of all the boarders. He said, the number of rules has been reduced, there would only one – the Commandment of Love. The older boarders, 18 year old young men, couldn’t cope. Within weeks many faced expulsion, their parents were up in arms that the one rule didn’t provide enough guidance or certainty!!!
In a homily on Oct. 13, 2014 Pope Francis made this comment about the scribes and Pharisee of old, perhaps he was talking to each of us. ‘The scholars (he said) were safeguarding the law “out of love, to be faithful to God,” but “they were closed up right there,” and forgot all the ways God has acted in history. They forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, “and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before,” he said, but the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; it is a path toward the fullness of Jesus Christ.
He challenged us all with the message, “The (Church) law (rule or regulation) teaches the way to Christ, and “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,” he said, “and if it doesn’t get us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.” So there will be occasions for church regulations to change. A change in certainty.
This is not a new idea – some of us can remember how church rules have changed in the past sixty years – they changed so as to lead us closer to Jesus e.g. Mass in English, increased frequency of receiving communion with the changes to fasting rules, encouragement to read the Gospels, restoration of the permanent diaconate. Francis continues “Am I at a standstill or am I a person on a journey?”
In the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, released only days ago, the Pope gave additional examples. He wrote about the place of migrants in society:
“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.” (137)
We all crave the security of certainty – our certainty is the commandment of Love. That is the message of Jesus, the test of our discipleship. Jesus invites us to live the commandments, to put life into them through our daily lives. 723
Deacon Kevin Pattison