Once there was a very sincere man who wished to live a holy life. So he went to his rabbi to seek his advice. The rabbi congratulated him on his ambition, then asked, “How have you been faring so far?”
“Quite well, I think,” the man replied. “When you say well what do you mean?” the rabbi asked. I haven’t broken any of the commandments,” the man replied. “I haven’t taken the Lord’s name in vain. I haven’t profaned the Sabbath day. I haven’t dishonored my father or mother. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t been unfaithful to my wife. I haven’t stolen. I haven’t borne false witness against anyone. And I haven’t coveted my neighbor’s wife or goods.”
“I see,” said the rabbi. “So you haven’t broken any of the commandments.”
“That’s right,” the man replied with pride.
“But have you kept the commandments?” the rabbi asked.
“What do you mean?” said the man.
“I mean have you honored God’s holy name? Have you kept holy the Sabbath day? Have you loved and honored your parents? Have you sought to preserve and defend life? When last did you tell your wife that you loved her? Have you shared your goods with the poor? Have you defended the good name of anyone? When last did you put yourself out to help a neighbor?”
The man was taken aback. But to his credit he went away and reflected on what the rabbi had said. He realized that up to this he had been merely intent on avoiding wrongdoing. It’s surprising how many people think this is the highest criterion of virtue. But the rabbi offered him a new vision of goodness, not merely to avoid evil, but to do good. Up to now he had a negative concept of goodness. Now the rabbi was offering him a positive concept of goodness. He had given him a new and better compass to guide him, a new and more challenging path to follow.
We must be careful not to make the mistake that man made. We must not approach the commandments in a negative way because this leads to doing the bare minimum. We must approach them in a positive way. And we must keep them in the right spirit. Our obedience must be motivated not by fear but by love. We don’t keep the commandments so that God will love us; we keep the commandments because God loves us and we love Him.
Jesus brought in a new and more exiting law – the law of love. Far from contradicting or abolishing the old law, the new law goes beyond it, and so brings it to perfection. He said that all of God’s laws could be reduced to two: love of God and love of neighbor. In truth, there is only one law – the law of love.