“Love one another as I have loved you.” Why is this the greatest commandment?
Christ’s great commandment to us to “love one another as I have loved you” contains the Old Testament Law, but the Old Testament Law does not contain Christ’s commandment of love. The Old Testament commands us not to kill. Christ’s commandment of love commands us not to get angry without reason. The root of our external actions is found in the human heart. Jesus is telling his listeners, “You have had plenty of time to spend on the Old Testament’s lessons, now it’s time to move to higher lessons.” Jesus does not disturb the authenticity or force of the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. He asks us, rather, to move to a newer and higher standard. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:17) In the account of the Last Judgment, we hear Christ telling us:
For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you? And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:35-40)
We need to be clear about his point. The way we treat others is the way we treat Christ. For he dwells not in some remote and distant heaven, but rather in those around us. He is a lot closer to us than we think. When Christ was crucified and the veil in the Temple was tom in two, that opening of the Holy of Holies signaled that God was no longer to be found in a building, in Jerusalem’s Temple. He was rather now to be found in a new temple, the temple that is the body of Christ. We are, each of us, living stones that form God’s temple. Each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. How we treat each other is, therefore, of supreme importance. Christ’s law of love applies not just to the way we treat others, it now applies to the way we treat Christ himself. The Old Testament’s Ten Commandments dealt with our external actions; Christ’s new Commandment of Love deals with what is in our hearts.