'You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien....You shall not abuse any widow or orphan...If you lend money to the poor, you shall not deal with them as a creditor...' -- Ex 22:21-22,25

As someone who has spent the majority of my priesthood teaching full-time, I believe that I have picked up some tricks of the trade over the years.

Diaconal candidates, lay pastoral ministers, religious novices, seminarians, college students and high school students -- no matter what age, gender or situation -- all have one thing in common: They love to ask that one question to stump the teacher.

Often, the question posed is asked by the student with another motive in mind: in my case, usually to distract me as a professor and to get me off the topic!

In this Sunday's Gospel (Mt 22:34-40), a scholar of the law with an ulterior motive asks Jesus, ever the master teacher a tough question: "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

The Lord Jesus, He who is all truth, He who cannot deceive or be deceived, doesn't fudge the question; He doesn't dance around the question. He answers it plainly and clearly. Jesus simply states that the first commandment -- love of God -- is the greatest.

God first
This is true. All things flow from God, who is creator and ruler of the universe. It is God who loves us into being, sustains us in existence and always wills what is best for us in our lives.

In stating that the first commandment is the greatest of the commandments of God, Jesus is recalling chapter five of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. All the pious and observant Jews hearing Jesus would have instantly recognized this and approved of Jesus' answer. They knew of Yahweh's providential love and care for them, as was clearly exhibited in the mighty deeds that the Israelites would have themselves witnessed at the time of the lawgiver, Moses.

The Israelites of Moses' day would have personally known the power of the Lord. They would have been able to echo the words of the psalmist (Ps 18:2-4,47,51), who calls God "the Rock," declaring, "I love you, Lord, my strength."

They love the Lord for many reasons, but especially for what He has done for them. Yahweh has freed them from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. How could they ever repay Him?

Our duty
Moses, in Sunday's first reading (Ex 22:20-26), gives the people of Israel of his day a concrete way of demonstrating that they love God: namely, to act like God, in a manner that is merciful and just, toward all whom they encounter -- even outsiders, foreigners, the poor and the needy. If they love God, they need to show it to those they encounter.

Jesus, in Sunday's Gospel, demonstrates not only His continuity with Moses, but especially His fulfillment of Moses' command, by making love of neighbor part of the first commandment.

Christ's words bring home to us the importance of loving both God and neighbor. As we know, "How can we love the God whom we do not see and not care for the brother we do see?"

Sunday's readings offer a challenge. Worship of God is absolutely necessary, but it is not enough. We need to be called from worship into service of our brothers and sisters.

Led by the Word of God and fed by His true Body and Blood, we who have adored and received the true presence of God, becoming walking tabernacles of the most high God, need to see the face of Christ in the suffering and the poor.

Prayer and service go together intrinsically. What can we do, concretely, in our parish communities to help live out the greatest of all the Christian commandments? "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind...and your neighbor as yourself."