Living in Communion With God And Neighbor: Thoughts on the Greatest Commandment

Woman comforting man on the road
Photo by Gerardo Javier Juarez Martinez

A deacon at my church once shared a metaphor from earlier Christian times that can be traced back to the sixth-century monk and hermit, Dorotheos of Gaza. It goes like this: Think of a wheel or circle. (In our modern times, we can think of a bicycle wheel.) Imagine the spokes of the wheel. As the spokes travel from the outside tire towards the hub in the center of the wheel, they necessarily get closer to one another. In this metaphor, the center of the wheel is God and the spokes are each of us on our own path to God. It does not matter at what point on the circumference you start, as one continues on their journey to the center, one must get closer and closer to other people on their own paths. 

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This metaphor reminded me of the Gospel story in which Jesus is asked, ”What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responds with not one, but two commandments: to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). 

I don’t quite remember the first time I heard this teaching. It was likely when I was a kid at Mass or at the Catholic elementary school I attended. Now, reflecting on it as an adult, I see that Christ is expressing the bond that exists between how we treat others and how we love God. 

Keeping this teaching in mind has helped me view others I encounter with more compassion, seeing Christ in them and having a better understanding of how we are all made in God’s image. This includes everyone from my own family and friends, to my co-workers, to strangers I see out at, say, the grocery store. To embrace Christianity is to live a life striving for God, which in turn requires us to work to increase our love for our neighbors. 

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Jesus met many people throughout various walks of life, treating them with love, and calling them to turn their hearts toward love. I often think about the choice I have each time I interact with someone, especially if I’m not in the greatest mood. I can choose to let my bad mood take over and come across as insensitive and contemptuous, or I can work to overcome it to be more thoughtful and humble. I don’t always choose the latter. 

However, I try to remember that not only is it best practice to treat others with kindness and respect for their own sake, but also that my actions reflect how I express my love for God on a day-to-day basis. As Servant of God Dorothy Day poignantly put it, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” The call to love your neighbor as yourself is not always easy, and I have certainly not lived this out in all (or likely most) interactions I have had with others. Still, striving towards virtue and attempting to live more in line with Jesus’ teachings with each successive day is an integral part of the Christian life. 

HOMILY: Two Inseparable Loves: Reflection on the Greatest Commandment

Part of my attempt to live out Jesus’ teaching has been trying to be more active and deliberate in the use of my time. This has meant getting more involved in the ministries at my parish, such as the food pantry and the refugee resettlement program. I have also tried to live out God’s love for others in my own family. Being there to help my kids when they have a problem, or simply to spend time playing games with them and sharing in their interests, being a devoted husband to my wife, doing chores around the house (even and especially when I’d rather do anything else) are all ways in which I can try and emulate Christ’s teachings in my life. 

The beauty of the two-fold nature of the greatest commandment, to me, is that we are all given many, many opportunities to convey our love and gratitude to God through how we treat others. This can range from the time we spend with our family and friends to the mundane interactions we all have with strangers in our daily lives and everything in between. God calls us all to be in communion with him, and at the same time, to be in communion with each other. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” as it is written in the Book of Proverbs (3:27). Love is a gift God has freely given to all of mankind… and that is something I hope to keep in mind next time I see my neighbor.