The Scribes and the Pharisees prided themselves in their knowledge of the Law and the teaching of the Prophets, and especially in their ritual requirements. They made it a life time practice to study the 613 precepts of the Old Testament, including numerous commentaries by rabbis on them. In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 12: 28-34) a Scribe put Jesus to the test to see if He knew the laws. He asked Jesus: ‘Which is the first of all the commandment?’. In other words, he was asking which would be the greatest or the most important.
One Lord answered with simplicity but he linked two commandments together: ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The two, which are found in different places in the Old Testament, are intrinsically intertwined.
Loving God comes first, but it does not stand alone for the love of neighbour is firmly grounded in the love of God. There is no genuine love of God without love for our neighbour; and there can be no sustained love of neighbour without an underlying love for God.