The Most Important Commandment

Can a man or woman be considered a disciple of Christ if he or she obeys some of God's commandments, but doesn't love Him more than anything or anyone else?
by Lorraine E. Espenhain | Source:

In the tenth chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel, we read the story of a young man who ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees, and asked our Lord, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded that if he wanted to enter life, he had to obey the commandments of God. Confident and assured, the man said, "Teacher, I’ve kept God’s commands since I was a little boy." Looking at the man with love, Jesus said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." [Mk 10:21]. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth, and giving up that wealth was something that he would not do, not even for Jesus or the Kingdom of God.

While the man walked away with his head hanging down, Jesus said to His disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." [Mk 10:23;25].

It’s easy for us to read this story and see it as something that only applies to rich people. But when reading the Sacred Scriptures, we must learn to slow down and meditate on them so that we will not miss the principle that Jesus is teaching to all of us. Even though most of us do not possess wealth, the principle behind this story applies to everyone, rich or poor alike, and it’s a sobering principle at that.

This man kept the commandments that were easy to keep, but he neglected the most important commandment of all, which was to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact, when Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest in the sight of God, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, which reads as follows: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength."

There was something that this man loved more than God, which was his wealth. When asked to give it up for Christ, he wouldn’t do it. In this way, Jesus exposed the one commandment - the greatest commandment - that this man would not obey.

Can a man or woman be considered a disciple of Christ if he or she obeys some of God’s commandments, but does not love Jesus more than anything or anyone else? According to Jesus, the answer to this question is an emphatic No. In speaking to His disciples, Jesus issued the following warning, a warning which I fear continues to fly over the heads of millions who sit in church pews week after week throughout the United States: "If anyone does not hate [loves more than Me] his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he CANNOT be My disciple." [Lk 14:26].

Note that Jesus is not mincing words. He does not say that people who don’t love Him with all of their heart will receive a lesser place in heaven when they die. He makes it very clear that if we do not love Him more than anything or anyone else, we won’t even be considered one of His disciples.

The man in our story did not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or defraud others. He honored his parents. Perhaps he went to the synagogue once a week to pray. To every outward appearance, he was a God-honoring religious person. And yet, because there was something that he loved more than God, something which he insisted on putting before God, he walked away and completely missed out on the Kingdom of God and eternal life with Christ. He missed the mark because he wasn’t willing to give himself completely to God, heart, mind, body, and soul.

Let’s redo the scene in our story in a way that connects to us in the 21st century Roman Catholic Church so that we might grasp the sobering truth which Jesus is presenting. Would it fare any different with us if we were the ones kneeling before Jesus and asking what we needed to do in order to inherit eternal life? "Teacher, I’ve been a Catholic since I was a little child. I went to catechism classes and have received the Sacraments. I’m raising my children as Catholics, and I go to Mass every single week." But do you have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you love Him more than anything or anyone else, even your own life? Is He first and foremost in your life? If you were kneeling before the Son of the Living God, what would He say to you?

The great deception plaguing the Lord’s Church in this day and age is that many believe they are on their way to heaven because they go to church once a week, don’t murder, commit adultery, or steal. They keep these commandments, but neglect the most important commandment of all, which is to love the Lord with all their hearts and to put Him first in their lives. According to Jesus, it is this commandment which will determine whether or not we are true disciples of His, not our church attendance or faithfulness to keep the easier commands of God.

God wants to be first in our lives. He wants to be the very center of our lives. Many profess to ‘love’ Jesus, when in all actuality, they love their families, money, homes, careers, hobbies, plans, priorities, and goals more than they do Him. Their lives are centered around these things, not the Lord Jesus Christ. They are neither jealous for Him nor consumed with a burning desire for Him. Although they go to Mass once a week, they are earthly-minded, not heavenly-minded. They give God their church attendance and offering envelopes, but not the thing He desires most of all, which is all of their heart.

In this story, I see a call for each of us to examine our hearts and lives before God. We might feel like we’re one of Christ’s disciples, saved, and on our way to Heaven simply because we go to Mass every week, but do we truly love the Lord more than anything or anyone else? Is He the absolute center of our lives? Is He our most precious Treasure? Our reason for being? The Motive behind all that we do or say? Or is He just Someone we give a few thoughts to on Sunday morning before we file out of the church sanctuary and return to our busy, cluttered lives?

Jesus knows our hearts. If there is something that drives and motivates us more than our love for Him, He sees it, and we can be certain that He will expose it and deal with it in our lives until we give Him His rightful place in our hearts. If we are not willing to make the necessary changes, like the rich young man in our story, we, too, will miss out on the Kingdom of God and eternal life with Christ.

If we say that we love Jesus more than anything, then this will be reflected in every single area of our lives. It will be reflected in the way we spend our time, treasure, and talent. It will be reflected in the way we raise our children, our priorities, our desires, our plans, and our goals.

The story of the rich young man teaches that it is possible to obey some of God’s commandments, yet still miss the Kingdom of God in the end, because of our failure to keep the greatest commandment of all, which is to the love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The truth which Satan does not want us to discern is that Hell is filled with many who sat in church pews week after week, and even stood behind pulpits!  They are not in Hell because they did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but because they did not love Him most of all.  They put everything else before their relationship with Him.   Anyone can go to church once a week. But where are we with Christ during the rest of the week? Where are our hearts then? Where are our minds, souls, and strength then?

If we want to avoid the tragic fate of the rich young man in our story, we need to be faithful to prayer and the study of God’s written Word. We need to study the Bible and apply the truths therein if we are going to be faithful to God. It isn’t enough to know a priest who can answer our questions about God. The Lord is looking for sons and daughters who so value His Word that they read it, study it, know it, and apply it to their everyday lives. St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." If we are ignorant of Christ, then how can we love Him with all that is within us?

Prayer, on the other hand, gives us the supernatural strength that we need in order to apply the truths which we study to our lives.

Prayer and study of the Word of God will change us. We cannot have a personal relationship with Christ if we do not spend time talking to Him every single day. We cannot know how He wants us to live if we do not take the time to study His Word every single day.

The rich young man kept the commandments that were easy to keep, but he neglected the most important commandment of all, which was to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because he neglected this one commandment, he missed out completely on the Kingdom of God and eternal life with Christ.

This story is not just a warning to those who are rich. Rather, it is a call for all of us to examine our hearts and to make the necessary changes in them so that Christ will be first in our lives and loved most of all. To give God anything less than this is to walk away from Jesus and to join the rich young man on his tragic journey, even though we may go to Mass week after week and call ourselves Roman Catholics.

He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

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