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Daily Bible Verses | The Greatest Commandment

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Christian Art | The Greatest Commandment | Love

Matthew 22: 34-40 – Week 30 Sunday Year A, also Week 20 Ordinary Time, Friday (Audio Bible KJV, 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

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)4

Audio Bible KJV | King James Version | Endnotes

The Greatest Commandment | Fullness Of The Law

Faith in Jesus is essentially a call to fullness of the Law. This does not mean an adherence to letter of Leviticus. Yes, it can be so that Christians choose to abide by the minutiae of the Law as expressed in the Torah – including in Leviticus. Does God really mind if we wear a garment woven of two or more different fabrics? If so, then God really does intend us to adopt and to pursue a non-technological lifestyle – of pure cotton, pure wool, pure silk. And maybe that is the case. Maybe God does indeed intent us to life in non-technological, non-modern ways. Maybe – just perhaps – this little detail of Leviticus is indeed a call for modern Christians to abandon our modern technologies and to live simply.

A complete reading of the Torah – the Pentateuch – beginning to end is a good thing for Christians to do. There might be the most literally translation – which can be said to be the KJV – the King James Version. There might be more modern and accessible translations: the RSV is very good. There might be very literal and scholarly translations – which perhaps do not read so well aloud.

A concern images through such reading of God’s care for His people – his chosen ones. There is such minutiae of care, and it is intended to guide and to nurture. It is intended through the years of the wanderings of the Jewish people, upon their exodus from slavery in Egypt, to nurture a people fit to inherit the promised land.

Thousands of years later, Christians reflect upon the teachings of the Torah – the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – and we find such depth of Christian teaching, as it were prefigured and established in the Law for the Jewish people.

Jesus is come to remind us of the spirit of the Law.

There is to be no slackening our total and absolute commitment to love God – with all our mind and all our soul and all our body.

There is a reminder to love each other and to love ourselves. And in this sense, the Law becomes complete.