We love to rank things in order of importance. We are fascinated by the question, “Who is the greatest?” You can just fill in the blank with anything that you like. Who was the greatest President? Was it George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR? Who is the greatest football player of all time? Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Tom Brady? What about the greatest coach? Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban? Well, that's an easy one......it's a tie. This fascination with ranking people or things is not new. And in today's Gospel we find Jesus presented with just such a question. “What is the Greatest Commandment?” In the Jewish tradition of Jesus' day, there were 613 Laws. That's a lot of laws! Of course, some were more hard hitting than others. They included everything from how to prepare food to what color tassels should be sown onto the tunic. In view of such a burdensome number of Laws, a scribe asks Jesus which of these laws is the greatest. It is very interesting that Jesus gave him more than he asked for...not one law but two. “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” The love of God and the love of neighbor are intrinsically connected. You cannot have one without the other.

I want to consider the first part of His statement, that we are called to love God with everything we have. Think about this when you watch TV. Ask yourself, “Am I loving God in this?” Think about this when you interact with the people at work. Are you loving God here? Think about this when you go through your evening at home with your family. Does your behavior show that you love God? A really good check on this is to walk through your day as if Jesus is walking right along side you. Would He have laughed at the television show you are watching. What would His reaction be to the websites you are browsing? What about the things you said to your co-workers or your spouse when you lost your temper today? Would having Jesus standing beside you alter the choices you made? The reality is that Jesus is with us every moment of every single day. And if we want to follow Him and love Him with our entire beings we need to be aware of His presence. Jesus is not distant or detached. He is an active, loving presence in our daily lives.

Now take a look at the second part of Jesus' command: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is probably the bigger challenge for us, isn't it? We have no problem loving our families and our friends. Most of us even love our coworkers. We probably try to treat others in our social sphere the way we would want to be treated, with love and respect. But what about the people who present that greater challenge? What about the grumpy check out girl at the grocery store? What about the guy who stole the last available parking space? It can be hard to love ALL people ALL, of the time. But the message that Jesus was trying to give today is an important one. It is not enough to just love God. As a matter of fact, it is impossible for us to truly love God if we ignore the people around us. Each person you encounter is a walking, talking, likeness of God.....even the ones who are difficult to love. Now, I know this is hard to do at times. One of the first laws of nature is self-preservation. We try to protect ourselves from the stranger. We try to protect our feelings and our security. So when Jesus says that we should love our enemies and love others as ourselves, this might just go against our nature. It is important to note here that the word “LOVE” doesn't mean having a warm fuzzy feeling you might get in a romantic relationship. It is not an emotion or the feeling you have for a good friend or a family member. No, Love is more about how you treat the other person, what you do for them. We have to make a conscious effort to help others, don't we? It could be something as simple as helping a neighbor or giving to the poor. It could be telephoning or visiting a sick friend or relative. We have to practice loving just as an athlete practices to hone his skills. We have to decide to love just as a businessman follows a business plan. Changing our approach to others and allowing ourselves to love might not come automatically, but it will improve with dedicated focus and effort. So today, as we come together and recall Jesus' unselfish love for us in giving His life on the cross, let us ask Him to in turn, help us learn to love.