Such a simple commandment Jesus puts before the Pharisees and ourselves today. We ask their question too: what is the greatest commandment of God, what single law is of the greatest consequence? However do we really understand the unintended consequences of what Jesus actually says? In plain speech it seems simple enough: "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. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."(Mt 22:37-40) I still love the image my Jesuit teacher (may he rest in peace) gave us when we were doing Religious Studies as teenagers in Wimbledon College, he suggested that we look at these two commands as one coat hanger, a strong one, on which we put all kinds of garments at different times of use.
The coat hanger serves as a base on which many different cloaks, coats, trousers shirts, winter and summer wear may hang, but not as static objects, we take them off for use. In other words our double commandment can be found in many different spheres of action.
Now, those of us who are religious people have several key failings, sins if you wish, one of which is the danger of a self-righteous sense of our own importance as a purveyor of God's truth. If you think this doesn't apply to you, good! Nevertheless I'd have a good examination of conscience if I were you. Listen to the words from our first reading from the Book of Exodus, does any of this apply to us?
"You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbours among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbour's cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset".(Ex 22: 20-22,24,25).
I can hear a much younger version of myself saying that none of these things apply to me, but now I have to acknowledge freely-that these things I have done!
Attitude matters as well as action, slander, calumny, mendacity are as bad as being a thief and an extortioner, for by all these things I oppress others, maybe subtly, but it is there in my daily life.
You see being a Christian is about a way of life that is turned, not to the achievements of power, celebrity, riches, that good academic name and fame, the holy cleric or religious, no! For that says Jesus, shall not be of any use whatsoever: rather in the Kingdom it is those who have shown love and merciful compassion who will wear the crown of victory, those who in humbleness of heart, gentleness, have shown love in all its forms!
The living out of those two co-dependent commands can be achieved by all of us, yet it also means a surrender of the selfish and safe things by which we surround our faith lives - we have to let go, and let God in, for all we shall be asked on that day of judgement is not; "did you follow all the rules?' Rather; "did you do this to me?" And what shall we then say?