Every new product, new company, sports personalities, and many others often aspire to be #1 in their respective fields. There is pride in reaching the top and remaining there as long as possible. However, reaching the top requires hard work, moving from the ground and heading for the pinnacle. In fact, there are no shortcuts but this calls for a lot of hard work and sacrifice. In order to be #1, there surely must be a sense of purpose and direction.

The scribes and Pharisees who often confronted Jesus were striving to be #1, not only in the eyes of God but also with the community. That is why in today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked what aspect of the laws that He would rate as the most important and they wanted to be sure they were right there keeping that religious practice. One has to remember that in the Old Testament, it is estimated that there are 613 laws of religious practices and they wanted to know what was the #1 law.

The scribe that came to pose the question about which is the greatest law was someone who was schooled in the religious tradition and practises. He knew the 613 laws but yet looks towards Jesus, whom he calls ‘Teacher’, to point out ‘which is the most important’. This time it was to neither test nor trap Jesus – possibly a sincere question.

Jesus’ answer is faithful to His own tradition and endorses the most significant prayer of the Israelite religion (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5) – to love God with one’s heart, soul, and strength and Jesus adds ‘with all your mind’ to emphasise the total engagement of the person. In this way, Jesus was clearly stating that the love for God must not only occupy one’s entire being but it is the very heartbeat of anyone who chooses to follow Him.

In the very same breath, Jesus adds the second part – “you must love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus does not present this as two commandments but one singular commandment. The responsibility to love God with one entire being and to love one’s neighbour as oneself is the nucleus in the kingdom of God.

Human experience shows us that it is easier to love the silent God than to love our noisy and irritating neighbour. The way in which Jesus came to show what it means to be a disciple for the kingdom boils down to this as righty coined in an article I read not so long ago: “Our faith is revealed by our works (cf. James 2:18), our creeds are revealed by our deeds (cf. Luke 6:46), and our love for Him is revealed by our love for others (cf. 1 John 4:20) … God makes it very hard for us to fake our faith” – how true!

How can we claim to love God whom we cannot see but not love our brothers and sisters who we can see (cf. 1 John 4:20) is the most stirring verse in the Bible that challenges us to love our neighbour. Loving our neighbour does not always mean going in search of the poor, neglected, marginalised, downtrodden and the likes. In saying that one must love God with one’s entire being, Jesus simply tells us what does fulfilling this command look like in my daily life? Therefore my neighbour is the people that I surround myself with and encounter every day.

Though Jesus removes the separation between the love of God and love of neighbour, let us not mistakenly think that loving neighbour may be a substitute for loving God – we cannot set one commandment against the other. The motivation and inspiration to love our neighbour must come from our duties towards God – prayer, scripture reading, Sunday Mass, and even our devotional practices.

As disciples of Jesus, the “two commandments” that Jesus mentions in the Gospel today cannot be separated. They are a manifestation of the same love and the essence of our Christian discipleship. The key message in the Gospel today is that pious religiosity alone does not make us good Christians. If we love God most, we cannot but will love others best – not easy but not impossible. We cannot be an authentic and #1 disciple of Jesus unless we have both – love God and love neighbour.