Jesus taught that love was the greatest commandment


What theme would you find in these five quotes from different parts of Scripture, from both testaments? It’s one we would think to be central to why there are Scriptures at all.

First, from the Hebrew sages who taught morality by gathering the wisdom of temple elders in Jerusalem, and whose wisdom Jesus valued: “Hatred stirs up disputes, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10, 12).

Second, from the same elders, “He who covers up a misdeed fosters friendship, but he who gossips about it separates friends” (Proverbs 17, 9).

Third, from the disciples of Jesus the Jew, his compatriots in the faith of Abraham: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (First Letter to the Corinthians 13, 4-7). This is a better known citation, often chosen by brides and grooms for their wedding Mass.

Next, from the instructional letter of an unknown author doing the then perfectly honorable thing of using a famous person’s name and authority for the good of the reader: “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” (First Letter of Peter 4, 8).

Finally, from the moral teachings of the author included in the final listing of the official canon of the Bible at the Council of Trent, 1545-63, over the protests of those who feared he approved of good works overruling faith: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that anyone who brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Letter of James 5, 19-20).

Jesus taught that love was the greatest commandment of all, a bold thing for an acknowledged rabbi — let alone a non-credentialed rabbi– to teach.  Love of God and love of neighbor are two of the 613 commandments of the Torah, and rabbis centuries before Jesus argued which of those many was the most important. If that were not enough, he ventured even farther afield to make a despised outsider the object lesson of one of Christianity’s favorite two parables, the good Samaritan.

Pope Francis today speaks for the supremacy of love and yet has even influential voices in the church opposing him, thinking him in heresy for showing mercy. They oppose him for calling us to welcome immigrants fleeing by the millions their native lands because of economic or ethnic differences, refugees in fear for their lives, being greeted by million-dollar walls. They oppose him for charging us to care for our shared planet more than we care for the wealth that comes to a few from abusing natural resources. Too much mercy: shocking! With their many disciples worldwide, good Catholics all, they come to church each weekend, praying Amen to the Eucharistic Prayer the celebrant prays that asks for God’s care for the Pope and Bishop. Several decades ago, Barry McGuire sang of the folly of hating our next door neighbor but remembering to say grace.

While our Catholic-educated young leave the Church by the millions, joining America’s second largest religious denomination, the ex-Catholics, too few see the hypocrisy of attacking Pope Francis for his courageous defense of the Lord’s agenda. “Cafeteria Catholics” used to be applied to progressive members who disagreed with Pope Paul’s teaching on contraceptives, but I do not remember any of them calling for him to be impeached and found guilty of heresy.  Correct me if I am wrong. 

I was ordained a priest in the basilica whose Bernini columns out front symbolize the wide embrace of the Church. The several hundred columns are arms making physical room for tens of thousands, and spiritual room for all kinds, progressive and traditional, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, female and male. By what stretch do we judge others for not agreeing with us and our slant on membership? What semblance does this have to the Lord’s rule: “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and will, and your neighbor as yourself”?