Jewish literature tells us that someone once asked the celebrated Rabbi Hillel to sum up the 613 precepts of the Mosaic Law while he stood on one leg—in other words, briefly. Hillel replied, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.”
Separating himself from many of the religious leaders who were bent on destroying Our Lord, one scribe asked a similar question, but with refreshing sincerity: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” (Mark 12:28). While other scribes saw Our Lord as a threat, this man saw in him an opportunity to learn. So, he posed an honest question that expressed a concern embedded deep within every person’s heart.
This scribe’s question reflects a heart that was seeking to grasp the one single, simple principle underlying the complexity of the Law. What foundational commandment can give meaning to all the smaller rules and regulations of religious life? Is there a key that can unlock this riddle of our lives and guide us through the obstacles that are both around and within us? Even today we yearn for answers to these questions.
The command to love God and neighbour is not just an order or duty. No one can love simply because he is told to do so. Ultimately, loving God is a privilege, a relationship that God initiates at our baptism and that grows as we accept his words and open ourselves to his love. It grows as we align our wills with this greatest of commandments, making daily decisions to reflect this love in our words and deeds.
God is always reaching out to us, and every time we turn to him, we can receive his love more deeply. This experience then moves us to love him and to share this love with other people. It’s true that we have to decide to seek God and respond to him, but these decisions can all flow from the loving relationship that God wants with us, a relationship that grows as love is shared.