A Cycle – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Mt. 22: 34-40
By now the Pharisees must be tiring of Jesus constantly calling out their hypocrisy. In the past few weeks, we see them striking back sending others to trip him up and get him into trouble with the chief priests and elders of the people. Today we see them sending a lawyer to do their dirty work by asking him a question about the law. If you have ever witnessed a movie or television program about lawyers, you know they are good at confusing and tripping up witnesses by their questions. Who else is better equipped to now catch Jesus up in a controversy about the Jewish Torah than a legal scholar?
If it were just a question about the ten commandments the selection of which law would be the greatest might be easier to identify. But they are asking Jesus to name the greatest commandment from the 613 laws given to them in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Last week the Pharisees sent their disciples to Jesus with a question about the census tax to entrap Jesus but that effort backfired on them. They had not considered how Jesus might evade the question about the census tax because a yes answer would enrage the Jews and a no answer would enrage the Romans. Either way Jesus was going to be embroiled in a controversy and they were excited about that happening.
Today we have another of those questions designed to entrap Jesus. Naming a law would cause an uproar if he chose one law over the others. Especially since the Pharisees were fanatical in following every one of the 613 laws. However, Jesus’ answer not only sums up the essence of all the laws, but it calls into question our own interpretation of what pleases God.
Jesus who knew the Father’s heart once again catches them by surprise by tying together two of the commandments given to them by God, one from Deuteronomy (DT. 6:8) and one from Leviticus (Lev. 19:18). When Jesus says love of God is the first and greatest command and love of neighbor is like the first, he sums up the essence of the entirety of the law. But it was more than an answer to the question. It was a condemnation of the Pharisees because it was exactly these two commandments the Pharisees failed to follow.
They were so busy adhering to the letter of the law they forgot the intent of each law was to move their hearts to love God and to love our neighbor. If you would take the time to read all 613 laws, you could easily list them under the category of loving God or loving neighbor. If you take the time to look at the ten commandments given to Moses, you will discover the first three direct us to love God and the following seven direct us to love our neighbor. Why would following these laws become a guilty verdict given to the Pharisees by Jesus? It was because they began to use their adherence to the law to enhance their own self-esteem elevating them above those who failed to adhere to the law. By using the law to show how holy they were they were failing to love both God and their neighbor.
Now let us not get all caught up in looking at the Pharisees and how they were chastised by Jesus because this story is given to us to look at ourselves. There is something greater here that just a continuing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. What we need to consider is the constant message given to us by God about how we who have been made in his image are to be living our lives. I would like you to consider the simple fact that Jesus died to reconcile us to God. That one act of love by God and by Jesus Christ was done to not just reconcile us to God but to move us to live a life worthy of that gift.
Jesus tells us how to live a life worthy of that gift. It is to love God with all our hearts, mind, strength, and soul. The entirety of who we are is to come before God in worshipful praise and thanksgiving. The entirety of who we are is to come before God seeking to connect with God and to feel His love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The entirety of who we are should be seeking the Spirits guidance moving us to open our hearts to be changed and to discover how we are to serve both God and neighbor. This does not mean we can ignore other places and people we are called to love as Christ loved us. It is not about God and us. It is about us, God and the people we are called to help discover the truth of the gospel.
If loving God was all God required of us then Jesus would not have connected the two laws, to love God and to love neighbor. If only loving God was necessary then there would be no need for us to love our spouses or our children or other people. But Jesus tells us we must love our neighbor as ourselves and to do that is necessary if we are to love God. There is not a hierarchy structure within the commandments; the two are equal and we must do both. The issue Jesus was making with all his harsh words to the Pharisees was they neither loved God or their neighbor. They only adhered to the laws so rigidly because they believed it placed them in a special category of holiness. They were better than the ordinary citizen of their time and that made them more righteous and the others less worthy of God’s grace.
What Jesus has done is to show us how we are more pleasing to God by loving and respecting all people than we are by being able to follow the dictates of the law.
The real question we must ask ourselves is where is our hearts? Is my heart centered on God? If we say it is then how are loving those around us? It is an interesting question to ask ourselves as we approach our national election. There are many families and friendships being destroyed because of their candidate of choice. We have become a society that is so divided we must acknowledge we are not following the commandment to love God and neighbor. This is truly a passage that is divinely inspired to be given to us at this time in our history. The issue is for us to look inward and acknowledge our sin and seek to love God with our whole heart, mind, strength soul and our neighbor as well.