It was almost impossible to be a good Jew at the time of Jesus. While God gave the Israelites 10 Commandments, over the years the Jews became extremely legalistic and continued to add many more particular laws to the point that at Jesus time there were 613 Jewish laws. In adding these laws, the Jews lost their focus. While God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments so that they could know the freedom of living as His sons and daughters, the Israelites manipulated those commandments into laws that enslaved God’s chosen people. In today’s Gospel, the Jews tried to use these laws to enslave Jesus by trying to trick Him into saying which of the commandments was the greatest. Yet Jesus does not fall into the trap and seizes the opportunity to call them from their legalism by summarizing all 10 commandments, all 613 laws and the teachings of the prophets into two commandments; love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves.
In summarizing all the commandments into these two great commandments Jesus gives us the guiding principle of living out our Christian faith. He teaches us that in loving our neighbor, we love God. For “in the least of our brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God. … Love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God. …. Closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”
There is no doubt, at times loving our neighbor as ourselves is difficult, yet God commands it, so how do we live it out? I think the first step to following the commandment of Christ, is to recognize that our call to love our neighbor as ourselves is a command from God. It is something that we must choose to do regardless of how we feel about it. While having good feelings is nice and there are many preachers who preach a gospel of nice feelings, Christianity is far more than being polite and kind to others. Jesus doesn’t command us to be nice, He commands us to love. Jesus doesn’t really care how we feel. He commands us to love our neighbor, in what we do to them, in what we do for them, and in how we act towards them.
You see while feelings are important, they cannot be decisive. After all, we don’t choose our feelings. None of us wakes up in the morning and says, “today I think I’ll feel sad”, and none of us wakes up in the morning and says, “today I’ll feel mad.” No, we have little control over our feelings; they seem to come and go. Love and commitment, on the other hand, are choices that we do have control over.
Think about those you love the most. While there was probably a period of intense feelings for that person at the beginning of the relationship, did you not at some point make a conscious choice to love that person? Did you not at some point come to a point where you choose to love that person regardless of how you felt about them?
The experience of true love shows us, that love is hard work because it’s not just an idea or an emotional feeling. True love challenges us to change the way we live our life. True love takes a hold of our whole being. For when we truly love, we love with our whole heart, our whole soul and with our whole mind. While we may get upset at those we love, our love for them endures through those bad emotions, because we have made the choice to love.
My friends, this is the love that God commands we have for Him and for each other. While feelings can be good, when it comes to living the commandment to love others we have to step back from our feelings and make decisions. God clearly tells the Israelites in today’s first reading that they must express their love for Him in works of mercy and in concrete acts of care for the most vulnerable in society. Jesus, of course, echoes the Father’s command telling us that the worth of our lives will be judged by the love that we show to the least of our brothers.
If we want to follow the path Christ has traced for us, we must choose daily, regardless of how we feel, to care for our neighbor. This starts with those whom God has placed closest to us, people in our family, in our workplaces. We need to put our emotions aside and pay attention to our relationships. Rather than focus on how we feel towards another person, we need to focus on what we say and how we treat others. We must try to grow in our friendliness, in showing respect, in being more understanding of others’ failings and weaknesses.
Friends, so often our emotions dictate how we act. Today Jesus challenges us to move past emotion to make choices. In summarizing the commandments Jesus gives us the backdrop for following Him. He calls us to love Him above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The choice is ours. Will we become slaves to our emotions or will we experience the freedom of love? Will we let our emotions dictate our actions or will we choose to love God, by loving those He brings into our lives?
 Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, paragraphs. 15-16. Accessible at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html