The Great Commandment of Love


“Love” can be an ambiguous word. It is a word that is banded about and can therefore lose its true meaning.


Indeed, “love” can have many meanings. So, how can be tackle this problem if we are to understand Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel?[1]


We can truly understand the word “love” through the “understanding of God’s nature made known in Christ.”[2] So, through Revelation, we can know that love is “not a matter of feeling, which cannot be commanded in any case, but of commitment and action.[3] It has nothing to do with sentimentality and “is related to the Old Testament word for ‘covenant love’ or ‘steadfast love.”[4]


It is the Sadducees alone (well in fact one on them who is chosen as spokesman) who wish to test Jesus. “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”[5] Remember that there were 613 commands in the law – so this could be seen as a very difficult question indeed! However, it was considered that “all commandments were equal, with any ranking of them being mere human presumption in evaluating the divine law, all of which was equally binding.”[6] So, if Jesus picks one of the commandments and says that one is the greatest, then he is putting the rest of the 612 on a lower level.[7] He would be caught in the Sadducee’s trap!


The Lord, the Word made flesh has, of course, no problem in answering: “You must 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 resembles it: you must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.”


But is it as straightforward (albeit difficult if tried to accomplish without grace) as it might seem? The irony of it is that “outside of these commandments the rest of the law and the prophets mean nothing.[8]


St. Augustine puts it in a beautiful way, namely “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good”[9] writes St. Augustine.


So, there you have it! Put love first, love of God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit reaching out then to love of neighbour in response to the all-encompassing embrace of the Blessed Trinity.


Sr. Rosaleen Shaw OP







[1] Mt. 22:34-40

[2] The New Interpreter’s Bible, p.424

[3] Ibid.,

[4] Ibid.,

[5] Ibid.,

[6] Ibid.,

[7] Cf. Ibid.

[8] Sr. Hyacinthe, OP Webinar 25/10/17

[9] St. Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on the First Epistle of St. John,


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