Reflecting on Matthew 22: 34-40
Well, the Pharisees are now 0-2 in their attempts to trick Jesus. They’re determined to give it another try, though, so they have a Lawyer ask him a question that would give any Law-abiding Jew a long pause.
What’s the greatest commandment? The Lawyer certainly knows that the Torah provides 613 commands, and the rigidity of observance of every one is the sign of a good Jew. Can you imagine? 613 ways to fall short, every single day. Imagine what grace it was to meet Jesus, who could parse it all down to two things:
- Love God with everything you are
- Love your neighbor with all the compassion and attention you give yourself.
The first one would have brought affirming nods. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the familiar Shema, the prayer that observant Jews pray six times a day.
Mary and Joseph did a good job training Jesus up in the faith. All parents are admonished, in this chapter from Deuteronomy, to impress this Law upon the hearts of their children, and, of course, it’s deep in Jesus’ DNA.
But Jesus isn’t letting them off with just the familiar commandment to love God. He makes sure they hear the second commandment (Leviticus 19:18) too, and it’s here that he reveals his prophetic character.
The prophet, someone said, is like sand in your swimsuit. Jesus is determined to make us uncomfortable. Love God? Check. Love your neighbor as yourself? That’s the challenge of our lives. But Jesus won’t let the Lawyer, or us, off the hook. There is no loving God without giving the human race the same compassion and attention we give ourselves.
How exasperating. Pharisees- 0, Jesus- 3.
What ways have you found to love others as you love yourself?
Kathy McGovern ©2023