The Greatest Commandment? =Matthew 22:34-40
Bible Background: In Matthew, this question comes up in the last week of Jesus’ life, as conflict between him and the religious leaders grows. This is the 3rd of 3 questions that are posed to Jesus, apparently to try to trap him in some misstatement. As with the others, Jesus answers strongly and well.
Digging Deeper: 1. It’s actually a good question-maybe a poor motive-but a good question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” The Law of Moses was much more than the familiar Ten Commandments! And people really did want to know what they needed to be thinking and doing and avoiding in order to live as God’s people!
2. Trick question or not, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 (the basic Jewish faith statement known as the Shema): “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (For us, this is 1st Commandment material, as in “put God 1st!”)
3. Jesus adds to this a second command “which is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In a different setting (Luke 10) this leads to a discussion about “Who is my neighbor?” As in, who am I obligated to love? Jesus then tells the powerful story of the Good Samaritan. Short answer: Your neighbor is whoever needs your care and kindness!
4. In Matthew, Jesus notes that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”, as in: this is what our religion is about! Note that the two are inseparable. To love God is to love your neighbor. To love your neighbor is to love God. Matthew 25 and the “Sheep and Goats” scene, fleshes that out in real life.
5. Back in Leviticus 19, there is also this verse: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. That gave the Israelites a wide-definition of “love your neighbor”. How wide is your definition of ‘neighbor’?
6. What does it take in our place and time to “Love God with our whole being?” and to “Love our neighbor as ourselves?” How can we actually demonstrate that love?