“Which commandment is the first of all?”


 Friday (March 16): Gospel Reading:  

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which  commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; 33 and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much  more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.

Old Testament Reading: Hosea 14:2-9

2 Take with you words and return to the LORD;  say to him, “Take away all iniquity;  accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses;  and we will say no more, `Our God,’  to the work of our hands.  In you the orphan finds mercy.” 4 I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden;  they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O E’phraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit. 9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them;  for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Meditation: What is the right and sure way to peace, happiness, and abundant life? The prophet Hosea addressed this question with his religious community – the people of Israel. Hosea’s people lived in a time of economic anxiety and fear among the nations. They were tempted to put their security in their own possessions and in their political alliances with other nations rather than in God.  Hosea called his people to return to God to receive pardon, healing, and restoration. He reminded them that God would “heal their faithlessness and love them freely” (Hosea 14:4). God’s ways are right and his wisdom brings strength and blessing to those who obey him.

How does love and obedience to God’s law go together? The Pharisees prided themselves in the knowledge of the law and their ritual requirements. They made it a life-time practice to study the six hundred and thirteen precepts of the Old Testament along with the numerous rabbinic commentaries. They tested Jesus to see if he correctly understood the law as they did. Jesus startled them with his profound simplicity and mastery of the law of God and its purpose. What does God require of us? Simply that we love as he loves! God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us. God loved us first and our love for him is a response to his exceeding grace and kindness towards us. The love of God comes first and the love of neighbor is firmly grounded in the love of God. The more we know of God’s love and truth the more we love what he loves and reject what is hateful and contrary to his will.

What makes our love for God and his commands grow in us? Faith in God and hope in his promises strengthen us in the love of God. They are essential for a good relationship with God, for being united with him. The more we know of God the more we love him and the more we love him the greater we believe and hope in his promises. The Lord, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us a new freedom to love as he loves (Galatians 5:13). Do you allow anything to keep you from the love of God and the joy of serving others with a generous heart? Paul the Apostle says: hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Do you know the love which conquers all?

“We love you, O our God; and we desire to love you more and more. Grant to us that we may love you as much as we desire, and as much as we ought. O dearest friend, who has so loved and saved us, the thought of whom is so sweet and always growing sweeter, come with Christ and dwell in our hearts; that you keep a watch over our lips, our steps, our deeds, and we shall not need to be anxious either for our souls or our bodies. Give us love, sweetest of all gifts, which knows no enemy. Give us in our hearts pure love, born of your love to us, that we may love others as you love us. O most loving Father of Jesus Christ, from whom flows all love, let our hearts, frozen in sin, cold to you and cold to others, be warmed by this divine fire. So help and bless us in your Son.” (Prayer of Anselm, 12th century)

Psalm 81:6-16

6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder;  I tested you at the waters of Mer’ibah. [Selah]
8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange God among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign God.
10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.
14 I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last for ever.
16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

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