Before my 95-year-old Jewish aunt died a few weeks ago, she asked me to conduct her funeral service. What to say? After all, Ive had a lot of experience with Catholic funerals, but not much with Jewish.
My aunt was a good person, a believer in God, but not what you would call an observant Jew. Her family hardly ever attended synagogue. While her Orthodox in-laws were alive, she and my uncle kept a kosher household. After their deaths, they stopped.
What makes a good Jew? The Bible is filled with laws and regulations besides the Ten Commandments. Other Jewish traditions developed over the centuries.
At the time of Jesus, a question put to many of the great rabbis was, What is the greatest commandment of the Law? In fact, it was put to Jesus himself and his answer echoed that of other great rabbis.
Jesus said the greatest and first commandment of the Law was, You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second, he said, is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments, was his conclusion.
How to measure my aunts life? She never went to services, she didnt observe the great Jewish feasts or fasts, she no longer kept a kosher home but, as I told the few relatives and friends gathered for her funeral, she was a good Jew.
For the heart of the matter is love. My aunt always kept the greatest of the commandments of the Law. She loved God and she loved her neighbor. She was a woman of love.
Had she been a Christian, I could have said the same thing with the same logic. After all, Jesus said to his disciples, I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
His disciple John explained, Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another if we love one another, God remains in us
In a way my aunt also could have been considered a good Muslim. After all, what is the heart of the matter for Muslims? To seek and submit to the will of the one God something that both good Jews and Christians do, too.
For example, the Letter to the Hebrews describes the mission of Jesus with, Behold, I come to do your will, O God. And Jesus himself taught, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Are there differences among Jews, Christians and Muslims? Of course. But, since all aspire to stand before the one and same God some day, why not accentuate the positive now and get to the heart of the matter.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA