You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
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What is the greatest commandment? That question seems strange. But it becomes understandable when we realize that that there were at least 613 rules that were developed to implement the Law of Moses. It’s like today’s legal system. When the legislature makes a bill and the President signs it into law, there is the still need of making what is called IRR or implementing rules and regulations. Now some rabbis taught that all of them were of equal importance while others say that some were more important than the others. The question put to Jesus (what is the greatest commandment) was meant to ask Jesus to which side he belongs: to those who say all are of equal importance or to those who say some are more important than the others?
Jesus replied that the greatest commandment was the Law of love: to love God AND to love one’s neighbor. Both have to be obeyed. Moreover, he said that it is from this Law of love that all the other rules flow. In other words, all the other rules were just ways of practicing the Law of love in daily life.
PHARISEES. The Pharisees were the ones who posed this question to Jesus. The name “Pharisee” means “separated”. They were separated from others by their strict observance of the Law of God. It was a way of expressing their fidelity to God. They were held in high esteem by the people because they were hard working and yet found the time to study and meditate on God’s Law. But if there was one great defect of the Pharisees, it was not hypocrisy but their great reliance on what they do for God than on God himself. In other words, they were BSS (mga bilib sa sarili). Perhaps, we can imitate the work ethic of the Pharisees. We can call it “sipag at tiyaga”.
NEIGHBOR. In Old Testament times, neighbor was understood as the one who belongs to my family, or my clan, or my people. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us to widen our understanding of neighbor. Anyone who needs my help, even if he were an enemy, is my neighbor. And as a Christian, it is my duty to be a neighbor to him. I have to help him.
We have heard the expression, “charity begins at home”. There is nothing wrong with that. But charity should not end at home. It must expand outside the home. For example, an alumnus treated to coffee at Starbucks in Sydney. At the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to read this sign: “We have already forwarded your donations for the victims of Haiyan.” Haiyan was the international name for typhoon, “Yolanda”. Australia is so far from the Philippines, yet these Australians behaved like our neighbors.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. When Jesus said: “"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 neighbor as yourself”, what he meant was that loving one’s neighbor is as important as loving God.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” has an important implication. We can rephrase it this way: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That means that loving oneself is alright. What is wrong is to love only oneself. Charity begins at home is alright. What is wrong is for charity to begin and end at home.
Another important point. Jesus did not say that our love for our neighbor and our love for ourselves should be equal. What he said was that we should love them in the same way that we love ourselves. You do good to yourself; you should also do good to others. You don’t want bad things to happen to yourself; you also do not wish bad things to happen to others.
Maybe I should add a small note. The Tagalog translation of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is “Ibigin mo ang iyong kapwa gaya ng pag-ibig mo sa iyong sarili.” Neighbor is not kapit-bahay but kapwa tao. Nevertheless, let us remember that when we said that charity begins at home but should not end there, the nearest people to receive our charity outside our home is--our kapit-bahay! Remember further the question posed by Jesus at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” We can re-phrase it this way: “Which of these three behaved like a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Applying this teaching of Jesus to what he said about loving your neighbor as yourself, it will come out like this: “Love your kapit-bahay as yourself by behaving like a good kapit-bahay to them.”
The Cross is the symbol of Christianity. The first reason is that Jesus redeemed us by dying on the cross. But maybe we add a second reason. The vertical bar represents love of God. The horizontal bar represents love of neighbor. The cross cannot be a cross if the vertical bar and horizontal bar are separated. They have to be together. The second reason why the cross is a symbol of Christianity is because Jesus gave us the law of love: love God AND love your neighbor. That is the way Christians love.