At the heart of  Jesus’ teaching is his command to love. He gave that command at the “Last Supper” with His apostles on the night before He died. He said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Live in My love.”

This command to love was also spoken prior to the last supper in response to a question directed at  Jesus by a lawyer who was trying to catch  Jesus to trump-up more evidence against Him. “teacher,” he addressed  Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” The question was a legal question.

In Judaism, there were 613 laws – all based on the Ten Commandments. By wanting to know the greatest of the laws, He was also asking for the least significant of the laws.  Jesus responded by quoting a passage from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy – the Book of the Law – which stated, “You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

The first part of  Jesus’ answer was no surprise to the Jews. It is the “Great Commandment”, the “Shema”, which every Jew recited before retiring at night and on rising in the morning.  It was, and still is worn around the wrist and even on the forehead of Orthodox Jews. It was marked on the doorposts of Jewish homes and even on the gates of their yards.

The law reads as follows, “Hear o’ Israel, the Lord is our God. You shall love Yahweh with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

The first part of the commandment summarizes the first three of the original commandments given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. We are told to give ourselves to God unconditionally and completely.  We are to love God emotionally (with our hearts), freely (with our souls), and intellectually (with our mind).

This is the first part of the commandment – it’s not new! It is to be expected and always demanded! To love God is to turn to Him every day to glorify Him, thank Him and give Him praise. It is telling God that we will serve and obey Him.

This first command to love God was followed by the command to love our neighbor. It was revolutionary, so the lawyer demanded a definition of the term “neighbor”. There were six explanations of the term “neighbor” according to six different rabbinic schools.

Neighbor is brother. Neighbor includes friends. Neighbor embraces the entire village. Neighbor embraces all who belong to the Jewish race. Neighbor embraces all who belong to the Jewish race and all who participate in the Jewish religion. Neighbor embraces even all who are in the process of becoming Jews.

The common element in all this is that all seem to say that it is fine to hate some people. The lawyer was asking  Jesus, “To what school do you belong?”  Jesus refrained from answering and instead told a story about a man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jerico and fell in with robbers. A priest, a Levite, and a samaritan passed along the road.

The priest and the Levite didn’t want to get involved, but the samaritan – a person hated by the Jews – helped the man and paid for his recovery. At the end of the story, Jesus asked, “Which one of the three was the neighbor?”  Jesus was saying that we must identify with the samaritan: there can be no enemy! There can be no limit to our charity.  Jesus said, “You have learned how it was said. You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But what I say to you is, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”.

When we meet the Lord in judgment,  Jesus will not ask us how many friends we had; but rather how many people did we reject.

How do we love our neighbors? We serve those in need and share the Gospel with them. We patch – up quarrels instead of starting them or nursing them. We put away resentments and give time to people – listening to their concerns and anxieties with love and support. We respect and reverence all people – not cutting them down, not gossiping nor speaking out in anger; but respecting their dignity. These sound like ideals to live by. They are not ideals! They are demands that will determine our eternal salvation.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta often spoke of the great poverty in America – not a lack of goods or money – rather a lack of love. The loneliness of people in our immediate families, the loneliness and feelings of isolation which many people experience is a direct result of our disobedience of the “Great Command to Love” one another.

The root of all personal problems, family problems, parish problems, diocesan problems, national problems is the lack of ability to communicate love and respect.

Members of families do not share with each other at deep levels because they do not know how to truly love one another. Our vocation as Catholic Christians is to reach out to those around us and simply love and respect them – not for who they are or what they can do for us – but simply because “they are”. They are created by God, and they are loved by God; and because they are loved by God, they are worthy of our love. “Love one another as I have loved you”;  Jesus said. When we perceive what is commanded here, we will begin to live the life of “God’s kingdom” now and we will begin to experience the mystery of the Cross – the mystery of God’s love for us just as we are – with all our flaws, all our sins, and all our limitations.