Every so often my sister and I lead “Children’s Liturgy.” This means that a bunch of little kids with big eyes and legs dangling to the floor stare at us while we try to talk to them about Jesus.
Here is something that I love about them: they haven’t learned the “correct” answers yet, the way that an adult would know to answer. So, really, they answer from their hearts.
We had gone over some history: the Israelites, their exodus from Egypt, and God reaching out to His people.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”
At that point, I thought it would be good to review the original commandments.
“What are the commandments,” I asked the semi-circle of children, “what are the commands of God?”
I think it was a little girl in tiny blue jeans and a light blue sweater who raised her hand first.
I called on her.
“Ummm, to breathe?” she asked.
I said that that was more a gift of God, rather than a COMMAND of God. It wasn’t what I had in mind, so I moved to another child.
“Food?” she wondered.
Eventually we found a girl who suggested “respecting others,” which inspired someone else to “honor your parents,” and someone else to go with, “no stealing.”
I thought we were back on track, more or less.
It wasn’t until later, when I was sitting in mass, that I realized: I think that they were right. They were right in better and deeper ways than I was, really.
Sometimes my mind constructs God like the Bible is constructed–the Ten Commandments and then Jesus. The children, though, thought of God from a place BEFORE the Ten Commandments. God did command us to breathe first, did He not? In the very first relationships between God and His People, His first commandment to us is the command to LIVE. And this command meets every human as they enter the world.
Breathing is a gift from God. I do not will myself to breathe; I breathe because God wills me to breathe. It is His commands that keep my lungs inflating and deflating. These things. How exactly right. We must remember: the first commands of God are not the yes’s and no’s of the Ten Commandments but, rather, to be. And to be in Him. Commands of love.
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”