Why the question? Why would a scholar of the law ask Jesus about the commandments? Every Jew was aware that there are 613 commandments. The famous 10 are the summary statements of the 613.
Many of the commandments found in the Torah pertain to how we are supposed to worship God, the sacrificing of animals, requirements on who was allowed in the Temple and who was not. Observance of the Sabbath was at the top of the list, along with dietary laws. In other words, the most important commandments dealt with our relationship with God, nothing else was more important. Rightly so! Therefore, Jesus acknowledged the importance of our relationship with God: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your mind.” That’s all that He had to say to be on the same page with the scholar of the law. He could have gone His merry way and the scholar would have been happy. However, Jesus added an equal commandment—another just as important as the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Although found in the Book of Leviticus, the love of neighbor as oneself did not make it to the 10 summary statements. Jesus made a bold pronouncement by equating the love of neighbor to the love of God! Some folks might argue, “God doesn’t know my neighbor. If God knew my neighbor, He would not insist on love, He would advocate capital punishment!” God does know our neighbor. He knows all of us. The same commandment applies to everyone. We are not called to “like” them, we are called to “love” them.
Naturally we are not going to get along with everybody. Some people we have to love from a distance. In-laws are often appreciated better from a distance. There are personality clashes, different political views, opposing religious opinions—they can contribute to a potential “showdown.” We certainly do not want to go around looking for a fight. Things are bad enough in the world already without starting a war with our neighbor, especially a blood relation. We cannot change how anyone thinks. We can only change how we think, how we perceive reality. Takes a mature Christian to admit that we do not have the monopoly on wisdom. God loves variety. God delights in the differences between cultures. Dumb are the folks who think that they are going to be the only ones who get to heaven. Who said? Who declared that heaven is reserved for a certain few? There are some religions that teach such nonsense. We believe that Jesus came to save all of humanity, including those who do not share our faith.
Love of neighbor begins with the hope of everlasting life for everyone, even our enemies. “Love your enemies, pray for those who hate you.” Jesus did not give directives as suggestions. That’s how He wants us to live. Not easy to love those who have wronged us. Our Lord never said that His way was going to be easy. Getting along with each other begins now—for us, here in McAllen—not light years away in a galaxy far, far away. How can we expect peace in the Middle East when we do not have peace in our back yard? How can we expect for people to lay down their weapons when we keep cutting up each other with our tongue? The first and most difficult step is to make peace with the person we see in the mirror. Since we are all imperfect people, we have skeletons in our closet. Everyone is damaged merchandise. We have wounds that need to be healed, forgiven. The things that we dislike about ourselves are the things that we dislike in others. The primary targets of our dislikes are usually our family. Awareness is a necessary step to disarm the ammunition that we aim at those closest to us. Making peace with our weaknesses is a healing step to self-acceptance. We are who we are, but there is always room for improvement.
When we choose to love, we come closer to God, to our identity in Christ. He gives us everything that we need to follow His commandment.