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Matthew 22: 34-40 – Week 30 Sunday Year A, also Week 20 Ordinary Time, Friday (King James Audio Bible KJV, King James Version, Spoken Word)

34 ¶ But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In Jerusalem, Jesus teaches in the Temple and is tested by the Sadducees and the Pharisees. These are tests concerning Scripture, concerning the Law, and concerning Jesus’ identity, i.e. concerning Jesus being God the Son.

Jesus’ response to the tests flows from two sources especially: from Jesus’ perfect knowledge of Scripture, and from Jesus’ true identity as God the Son incarnate. Ultimately, Jesus’ knowledge of Scripture, and freedom perfectly to interpret Scripture, flows from his true identity as God the Son.

To the Jewish people, this is astonishing. To the Pharisees and the Sadducees it is a blasphemous offence. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Jesus of Nazareth, this remains a key point of difference between Christians and Jews, howsoever Christians and Jews can respect each other absolutely. Christ’s words, his teachings, are also an action, which is a claim. This is a claim to what we know as Christian truth, that Jesus Christ is indeed God the Son.

The question, ‘Which is the greatest commandment?’ could potentially launch Jesus into a minefield. Never mind the Decalogue, we find hundreds of rules, commandments, as specified in the Pentateuch, with which the Pharisees had tangled themselves in knots, although we note that both David and the prophets had significantly reduced this number: David lists eleven (Ps 15: 2-5 – see below), Isaiah six (Is 33: 15), Micah three (Mi 6: 8), Amos two (Am 5: 4) and Habakkuk only one (Hab 2: 4).

Jesus’ response to what is really a challenge – and a temptation – is to return to the Decalogue and to express the essence of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments express two axes upon which love must thrive, in terms of our relationship with God, and in terms of our relationships with our fellow human beings. Our love of God is transcendent, and moves beyond this life. Now, though, these two directions in which our love travels complete one another. We live in loving brotherhood in relationship with one another and with God, when to love another person is to see the face of God, and as our love of God directs us to love our fellow human beings, all of whom are properly our neighbours – our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

There can be no objection made by the Pharisees to Jesus’ response to their challenge. Jesus continues to proclaim the Law which was given to Moses. There is a wonderful movement happening here, as Jesus displays perfect conformity with the Law, and as at the same time Jesus’ being the Law – Jesus’ being the Torah, Jesus’ being the new Moses, Jesus’ being the Son of God – becomes increasingly evident. The cross is not far off now. Jesus is preparing to mount his throne.

Soon Jesus will turn the tables and accuse, in the Temple, the scribes and the Pharisees – hypocrites. From the accusation will flow the Eschatological Discourse, in which Jesus speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ perfect responses to these tests lead toward greater and future truths. And then there will be the cross, upon which Jesus is perfectly centred as the new Law – the truth of God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees both know in their hearts that this new truth is coming, as they resist this knowledge.

Concluding Prayer | Love Revealed By Jesus Christ

LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15)

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Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself

It is a call to love not only those who are like us, but also those who are different from us, including our enemies. It is a call to put the needs of others before our own, and to treat others as we would like to be treated.

Saint Augustine wrote that love of neighbor is an essential component of love of God. He said, ‘We cannot truly love God if we do not love our neighbor. For the commandment to love God is inseparable from the commandment to love our neighbor’ (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 30).

Similarly, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that love of neighbor is an expression of the love of God. He said: ‘The love of God is the cause of the love of neighbor. And since the love of God is infinite, it is fitting that it should extend to all creatures, and so the love of neighbor is also infinite.’ (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 25, Article 12)

In the Protestant tradition, Martin Luther emphasized the importance of the commandment to love one’s neighbor. He said: ‘The whole law and all the prophets hang on these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. The law is given for the sake of love, and love fulfills the law.’ (Commentary On Galatians)

John Calvin also emphasized the importance of the commandment to love one’s neighbor. He said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the summary of the whole law. For if we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will not do him any harm but will rather do good to him, and we will not steal from him, or bear false witness against him, or covet what belongs to him.’ (Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 49)

Pope Francis has said: ‘Love of neighbor is the concrete expression of love of God’ (Homily, March 18, 2013). He has also called on people to ‘work for a culture of encounter, a culture of solidarity and a culture of life’ (Angelus, September 1, 2013).

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis called for a renewed sense of love and care for our global neighbors and the natural world: “All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go hungry.”