Summary: He was not asked for a second-place commandment.
It is the story of the courtship of Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the great German composer, Felix Mendelssohn.
Moses Mendelssohn was a small man with a misshapen, humped back. One day he visited a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter. Though Mendelssohn admired her greatly, she avoided him, seemingly afraid of his grotesque hump.
On the last day of his visit he went to tell her good-bye. Her face seemed to beam with beauty, but when he entered, she cast her eyes to the floor. Mendelssohn’s heart ached in love for her. After some small talk, he slowly drew to the subject that filled his mind. “Do you believe that marriages are made in Heaven?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the young woman. “And do you?”
“Of course,” Mendelssohn answered. “I believe that at the birth of each child, the Lord says, ‘That boy shall marry that girl.’ But in my case, the Lord also added, `But alas, his wife will have a terrible hump.’
“At that moment I called out, ‘Oh Lord, that would be a tragedy for her. Please give me the humped back and let her be beautiful.’”
We are told that the young woman was so moved by these words that she reached for Mendelssohn’s hand and later became his loving and faithful wife.
Isn’t that a beautiful story? Hold on to it. We’ll come back to it in a few moments.
Which of God’s laws is greatest? we hear in our Gospel reading today. The answer isn’t as straightforward as we might prefer.
WHEN WE ASK FOR ONE COMMANDMENT, JESUS GIVES US TWO. He was not asked for a second-place commandment. The questioner wanted to know what the number one, greatest single commandment was, but he got two commandments instead because the whole law and the prophets depend on two commandments and not one, namely that we love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.
If you are keeping the first without keeping the second, then you’re not really keeping the first. If X is more important than Y, then we’ll tend to treat Y as something to get around to sooner or later, once X is complete.
Our focus, he says, must be thoroughly divine and no less thoroughly humanitarian. (source: ANDREW WILSON Two Commandments for the Price of One).
A pious Catholic maxim is, “At all times, have a special love for your companions, and this mutual love must come from God and tend to God.”
However, your neighbor is anybody. E.g. Our First Reading says that you shall not oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. Oppressing an alien means economic oppression, but the root meaning is forced labor. Nevertheless, when the undocumented, so-called illegal alien cries out to me, I will hear him, says God, for I am compassionate. The implication of this common biblical theme is that God has his ear particularly cocked for the plea of those without resources and recourses. God is the guardian and avenger of those who lack human protection. Which includes the unborn.
The face of God that can be seen in others, especially in the faces of undocumented, law biding people who have been working and paying taxes for decades but still are not allowed to become citizens. Of course, we have the right to protect our boarders and manage immigration in a just way, but one that works.
The second commandment also puts a check on fanaticism because you can’t say “I love God” and kill non-believers of your religion. It is not necessary to like everyone, but only to accept them. It is founded on the persons relation to God. It is unconditional love, not unconditional approval.
The bonus is that if you keep one and two than you really actually get three because: Love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self grow together and sustain one another as they grow.
If one is absent or neglected, the other two can suffer.
However, it’s not just about self-understanding that comes with a relationship with God because that can remain too subjective, individualistic, and inward-focused. They neglect the second essential: love of and service to other people; a a spirituality of action to serve the eternal benefit and eternal life of others and their material well-being as a life goal.
Regarding love of one’s self- that is implied in the second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
E.g. Ephesians 5:28 says that a husband who loves his wife loves himself. Love of self here is a given—not a command per se.
St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:29, “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” St. Catherine of Sienna offers the same insight when she says that we love other people with the same love we see ourselves loved with. If I do not accept myself as I am, it will eventually be reflected in resentment and conflict with others as projections of conflicts within ourselves.