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Hear, hear! Love of God and love of neighbor

On the Readings for Sunday, October 25, 2020

(Image: Tanner Mardis/

• Ex 22:20-26
• Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
• 1 Thess 1:5c-10
• Mt 22:34-40

The “Shema” is the core Jewish declaration of faith, joining the statement, “Hear [shema], O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!”, with other passages about the unity and uniqueness of God (Dt 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num 15:37-41). The whole of the Shema, notes Jacob Neusner in Judaism: An Introduction (Penguin, 2002), “constitutes the creed of the Jewish faith. The three elements of the Shema cover Creation, revelation and redemption, that is to say, God as creator of the world, God as revealer of the Torah and God as redeemer of Israel.”

Observant Jews have long recited the Shema each morning and evening. It was certainly well known to Jesus, who would have prayed it regularly. So when Jesus was tested by a scholar of the law with the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”, it wasn’t surprising he drew from the Shema, replying, “You shall 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.” Those listening would not have quibbled with his statement; it was a common view among Jewish rabbis of the time. The identity of Israel and the core of Judaism were rooted in the uniqueness of God, his covenants and gift of the Torah, and his selection of the Jews as his chosen people. To be a Jew meant loving and fearing God, and therefore keeping his commandments (Dt 5:29).

What is distinctive about Jesus’ response was his subsequent remark: “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” This likely turned some heads! “The whole law? Really?” This was startling. Rather than simply noting that loving one’s neighbor is part of the Law, Jesus declared it to be intimately bound up with one’s love for God.

The two can be distinguished, of course, but they cannot be separated. They are two foundations upon which true religion and authentic morality are established.

This is a good example of how Jesus, an observant Jew, deepened and transformed the teachings of the Law and prophets, but without doing violence to them. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in the introduction to Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), his first encyclical: “In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth.” Jesus, noted Benedict, “united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour…”

No longer is love merely a “command”, but the response given by man to God’s free gift of love. Yet, at the same time, love is the new commandment, as Jesus explained to his disciples in the upper room: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35; see Catechism, par 1823). The essential difference is the person of Jesus Christ who is creator, the giver of the new Law, and the sole redeemer of mankind. He is the uncreated Son of God who through his death and resurrection offers to make us new creations, filled by the Holy Spirit with divine life and love (Gal 6:15; 3:26; 4:4-7).

This radical love distinguished the early Christians from their neighbors; it was not reliant on ethnicity, based in citizenship, or founded upon social status. It came from the love for God gifted to man by the God-man. Because of this love, wrote the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth” from Christ’s disciples. The Shema declared, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God”; the gospel further declared, “Hear, O world! Jesus Christ is Lord and God!”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the October 23, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. In telling his disciples to love one another, Jesus was telling Christians to love their fellow Christians. Not to love everyone on the planet. And since the word “neighbor” had a limited meaning in Jesus’ time, “Love your neighbor” also doesn’t mean “Love everyone on the planet”. I hope we understand this; the original intent of the words was different from what we generally suppose nowadays.

  2. This is surely not correct. The message of the parable of the good Samaritan shows that neighbour extends to all and this has been the constant teaching of the Church from the beginning.

    • Nope. Part of the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable is to tell us who is NOT our neighbor : people who act like the two guys who passed by. You haven’t thought this through.

  3. Our PP always says he is responsible for all souls in his geographic area.

    Jesus had no reason to come for the righteous; he came for the sinner.

    Blessed be the name of Jesus!

  4. Thank you, Carl, for the necessary linkage of this Scripture passage to our our Lord’s command in John’s Gospel. For sometimes even the emotionally stable among us can get disgusted with our continued failings and repeated mistakes, not therefore in those times loving ourselves very much, It’s in those times that we need to recall Christ’s command to love others as he has loved us despite our failings and mistakes.

  5. Mr Poulin: The lawyer talking to Jesus correctly identified the law of love of God and neighbour as the way to eternal life. He then asked Jesus “and who is my neighbour?” and Jesus replied with the parable of the good Samaritan. He asked the lawyer which of the three passers by “proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands”. The lawyer replied “the one who took pity on him” and Jesus told him to go and do the same himself.
    Contrary to your second comment above, the central issue of the parable is to show who is my neighbour – it does not purport to show who is NOT my neighbour, as you say. It is true as you wrote that a somewhat restricted meaning to love of neighbour appears in Old Testament scriptures (although respect for foreigners and enemies does exist) but many scriptures in the New Testament broaden out what was partly hidden in the old to a universal love for all mankind. Without that, Christianity would be an exclusive sect.

  6. The Shema, well referenced here anticipates a question. What is love? If not the divinity in anticipation of the Fall of Man to eternally realize a trinity of Persons bonded in love, with purpose of saving us. When we sinned and repudiated Him, infinite good the very essence of love He reveals the immensity of that repudiation in suffering the Cross, and further rises from the dead that we might perceive the ineffable nature of that love and adore Him. We in turn are called to forgive those who offend us. Not simply in imitation of the Savior. Rather that mercy, the revealing of what love is possesses its own justification, its supreme intelligibility. That our decision to forgive is Justice, that in doing so is surrender to that infinite good that is surrender of the self created out of nothing, to what in Christ’s immolation on the Cross is all, most beautiful, most just in realization of that infinite good.

    • Better placed then is the question posed by the Shema, why should we love God with such absolute totality? Why shouldn’t love similar to that given a father, or mother suffice? A love fully compliant with the law of nature within us. The reason is found in the Trinity, a mystery realized within the divinity from all eternity that speaks to infinite good, and totality of love that God gave us from the Cross, which entirely surpasses human nature and natural law. And completed in His most marvelous work the Resurrection [Augustine]. Resurrection and the promise of life for all, who crucified Him out of hatred. Hatred which in effect we sinners are guilty of. Justice demands that we must similarly be interiorly prepared to lay down our life for our brother, which can only occur within us through the Holy Spirit and that gift of grace that compels us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength.

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