One of the scribes came near Jesus and asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’
Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
I often hear people described as having led a ‘truly Christian life’. Very often that is followed up with statements about that person not feeling the need to attend Church, or their lack of belief in God. When taken together it is not unreasonable to ask why someone might be considered to be ‘truly Christian’ when they are, or have been, so disconnected from God and Church.
For those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ there is also the understanding that the Christian life is one of being in community with like-minded people. Christians gather in churches on a regular basis to re-charge their personal spiritual batteries, to be fed by the word of God and his holy sacraments, and to be empowered to go out and perform acts of love and service in Christ’s name. Christians are called to shine the light of Christ into the dark corners of this world through the way in which they live out their daily lives. Then those same Christians gather again in prayer, praise and thanksgiving to re-charge the batteries, be fed and to be empowered. That is how the Christian life works.
When people talk of someone being Christian and yet not connected to God they are really talking about that person only buying into the second of the commandments Jesus speaks of today: to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The people who are spoken of in this way are, without doubt, nice people. They do no one any harm and they often go out of their way to do good, but that alone does not make them Christian. That altruistic instinct may be powerful, but it is not a statement of faith, no matter how worthy it is. To take the step into the Christian life demands not only loving behaviour towards our neighbours but, first and foremost, the love of God with every fibre of our being.
In today’s reading we witness an exchange between Jesus and a scribe, one of those religious leaders who we so often find in conflict with Jesus. But … today is different. Today Jesus recognizes the wisdom of this particular scribe because of his understanding of the need to love God and neighbour. Furthermore, this scribe also understands that all the ritual and pageantry that surrounds religious practice is of no importance provided we live by those two great commandments.
Being part of the Christian community that we call Church is part of the deal. It is essential because it is part of loving both God and neighbour. Loving God through faithful prayer, praise and thanksgiving, and loving neighbour through our sense of mutually supportive community. Let us pray that we may model this two-fold love that will show the world that we are truly followers of Christ, the one who gave all to bring us into the closest of relationships with God.