Deuteronomy 6:2-6 Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 12:28b-34
I suppose I can be accused of being a bit biased, but I have found reading through the Gospel of St Mark this year to be particularly enlightening. I have found this to be especially so with respect to the structure he uses in order to present the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In both getting to know who Jesus is in the first part of his Gospel and in understanding what being his disciple means, the teaching of Jesus, in the manner that St. Mark presents it, adds a twist to what had been or what might have been expected.
Such is the case today when Jesus is asked what is the first commandment of the Law. He repeated what had been heard in the reading from Deuteronomy, the basic statement of Jewish faith,“The “Shema Yisrael. . .” “Hear, O Israel. . .”
The learned Jewish questionnaire agreed with the response Jesus gave. But Jesus, as before, added a commandment also found in the Old Testament, in the Book of Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In doing so, he virtually places it on the same level, with the same status, as the first commandment. Or, if not that, at least he is making it apparent that the complete and correct understanding of the love of God included the demonstration of that love by love of neighbor.
So often it comes down to the question not who is my neighbor – Jesus answers this clearly in the story of the Good Samaritan – but what does it mean “to love” my neighbor. Perhaps this is difficult because we equate “love” with a romantic or emotional or a feeling sense. It is necessary to pull back from such notions. The first step to recognize is that there is a need for genuine respect for the neighbor, for all persons. The second step is then to acknowledge that all persons possess dignity as all persons are part of humanity like ourselves and are creatures of God. Respect that is to be shown and the acknowledgment of the dignity of a person, is about the person and not, necessarily, about the actions of a person.
Every person, any person, by the simple fact of a shared humanity, is deserving of respect and an acknowledgment of dignity no matter who or what they are, no matter what they may possess or not possess materially, physically, mentally or spiritually, no matter their background, heritage or status. As human beings they are, as we all are, made in the image of God.
For those who profess a Christian faith, all humanity shares in this dignity and is thus worthy of respect even more so because of the fact that God chose to share in humanity in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Such is the understanding that underlies the teaching of the Letter to the Hebrews. We are all in a relationship with God because Jesus Christ – the High Priest – achieves reconciliation between God and humanity.
To love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength, and to do so truly and genuinely, requires that we also love, respect, and accord dignity to our neighbor. That is the teaching Jesus proclaims today in Gospel of Mark and that is evidence we give of a genuine faith in our good and gracious God.