For Christians love is a sacred commandment

Father John A. Kiley

Believers are certainly not surprised to hear Jesus’ words proclaiming love as a principal pillar upon which the Christian life rests. Nor is the believer surprised to read the words of the sacred authors of the Gospels and epistles joining Jesus in his demand that love be central to all Christian activity. St. James writes, “However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.” St. Paul joins him while writing to the Galatians, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And again the Apostle confirms this belief in writing powerfully to the Romans: “…whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” The Gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke are unanimous and unequivocal in placing love at the heart of the Christian message. St. Mark writes for all three when he records: “Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall 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 shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And for the Christian love is to be understood in its broadest sense: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”

Love of neighbor permeates not only the New Testament as cited above but indeed communal charity has its roots in the Old Testament and, in fact in the nature of God himself, “…who makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” The Book of Leviticus offers quite ancient instruction on mankind’s relationships: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” It was this primeval verse that Jesus and probably the rabbis before him joined to the love of God to form the “greatest commandment.”

Perhaps most of all, the Christian believer, when considering love of neighbor, should heed the writing of St. John the Apostle both in his Gospel account and in his epistles. It is St. John, the beloved disciple, who emphasizes most forcefully that for the follower of Christ love is not only a recommendation or advice or simple guidance. For the Christian, love is a commandment vested with full Divine authority. As the second reading this Sunday indicates, “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” St. John was present, of course, reclining next to Jesus, when the Master announced his new commandment at the Last Supper, “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.” And again at the same evening meal: “This I command you: love one another.”

Recall that up to this point in salvation history only God the Father had made known commandments that were to be unconditionally observed. The commandments handed by God to Moses at Sinai were the very heart of the Jewish moral code, the unalterable shape of Jewish conduct for all time. Now Jesus Christ is revealing himself to be God by issuing a “new” commandment of equal moment. Moses and the prophets had maintained the centrality of the original Ten Commandments down through the centuries before Christ. But now Christ, on his own authority, issues a new commandment, a new manner of authenticity, a new mode of fidelity toward God and neighbor. Jesus’ commandment of love is put on a par with God’s commandments to respect Him, his Name and his day, and to observe all the social obligations that the Decalogue outlines. The new commandment of love is as sacred as the old commandments of obedience. Believers should examine their consciences just as thoroughly regarding the commandment to love as they would the ancient commandments regarding Divine and social responsibilities. Love is truly the new law, demanding that all human interaction should rise to a new level of personal involvement, individual concern, and heartfelt respect.