For the Jews, 2000 years ago, there were 613 precepts of the law, some bigger, more important than others considered less important; of these precepts about half were given as positive commands and the other half as negative commands. Hence, for well-intentioned people the need for simplification was real and pressing.
The question put to Jesus was roughly this: “Rabbi, in a nutshell, what do we have to do to make it to Heaven?” We should reflect on the answer given by Jesus and probe the reason why he adds a second commandment as being the other hinge on which the gate of Heaven opens—so to speak.
We need to first be clear about the concept of loving for a group-centered people like the Jews and other peoples around the Mediterranean Sea. As Dr. John Pilch points out in his book The Cultural World of Jesus, in the Jewish world of that time “love” was rendered by the word “belonging to,” “being attached to,” i.e., belonging to God and God belonging to us as a child belongs to his mom and a mother belongs to her child. Now, applying this concept of love in the sense of belonging to God and of God belonging to us as a group, loving him with our whole self means that in him we find life and everything else we need to live fully and meaningfully within the Group we call the Church. Hence, our very life in its broadest sense depends on our conscious decision to be attached to him as THE source of our very life. This attachment to God as the source of life must be such as to involve us totally, without reservation, without stops, without interruptions.
However, if this were the case, within us, limited as we are, there would be no belonging to, no being attached to left with which to love our neighbor as ourselves. All our belonging to and all our being attached to would be exhausted in our loving God. That is the reason why Jesus, intentionally, without being asked, adds a second commandment, and specifies that it is like the first one.
Let us find out together how divine revelation confirms Jesus’ surprising answer.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Let us keep in mind the meaning of love and hate for a Jew at the time of Jesus: belonging to is love and not belonging to is hate, respectively; so is being attached to or being detached from a group, respectively; it means giving or not giving of oneself totally to the other, respectively.
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Jesus combines the two commandments into the second one to avoid the common delusion of “loving” a God who remains invisible while neglecting to belong to and to be attached to a very visible and often bothersome, annoying, demanding brother or sister who confronts us directly.
And the clincher is found in the description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). I (your God) was hungry, thirsty, ill, naked, homeless, imprisoned, etc. How did you address or not address my needs?
Admission into Heaven is, thus, granted only to those who feel comfortable belonging to and being attached to a God very close to them and very visible to them. They address his needs with all their self: their heart, soul, and mind because they feel God belongs to them and is attached to them.
This final exam for admission into Heaven (the Last Judgment) is quite simple, but then, it should make us wonder why we ought to pray constantly (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), assemble to do Eucharist every Sunday and every holy day of obligation, make sacrifices, do penance, fast, and meditate of God’s Word in view of putting it into practice.
This question, too, has a simple answer: because we cannot do anything good without God’s grace; we are always in need of the continuous assistance of the Holy Spirit and the support which is available to us by operating as a “group,” as a Community of Faith.
The Group to which we belong and to which we are attached is equipped with all we need to overcome the many distractions to which we are subjected, so that our spiritual eyesight may help us recognize, love, and serve our God horizontally as the second commandment requests.