March 13 – Matthew 22:34-40
For some context, this week we find Jesus teaching in the temple, and it’s a few days before his crucifixion. There he was being quizzed by religious leaders as they tried to tangle him up in his words. A gaff or some non-orthodox teaching would’ve given them room to accuse Jesus before the Sanhedrin, perhaps even have him silenced for good, and by the end of the week they’ll have just enough to do exactly that (minus the “for good” part).
Lent Guide: At Ash Wednesday we handed out a Lent Guide for the Lenten Season this year. You’ll notice liturgies in there for eating together as a community group, so scroll down below the questions for tips on how to do that effectively. Also we’ll have more copies of the guide on hand this Sunday, and you can get it online right here: Lenten Journey.
Right before this week’s passage Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar and about the resurrection, two topics of intense debate. Then a lawyer (a highly trained religious expert) posed him what might seem like a softball question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Anything in the ballpark of “love God” would’ve been a home run answer, and any rabbi with a pulse would’ve known to say as much. So, what’s going on here?
First off, not all the Pharisees despised Jesus; he had at least one friend in Nicodemus (John 19:39) and some like Gamaliel were less antagonistic (Acts 5). Perhaps this was a sympathetic scribe tossing Jesus an easy question he could knock out of the park (Mark’s account seems to suggest as much; cf. Mark 12:28-34).
On the other hand, Matthew specifies this was a “test” (22:35), and we need to appreciate the subtlety of the question. Jesus is dealing with experts in the law, so consider these people to have at least a PhD in their field, and they themselves debated this specific question because it exposed one’s interpretative lens for the whole law. Ex. If Jesus would’ve said something like “keep the Sabbath” it would’ve revealed his emphasis on things like outward observation.
But Jesus, in his wisdom, answered with something the Pharisees would’ve agreed. His command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” is straight out of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5), an important prayer that devout Jews, like the Pharisees he was speaking to, prayed every morning and evening. But then he went a step forward; where the lawyer asked for one command, Jesus gave two.
As an aside, when Jesus concludes, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” he isn’t saying the Law and Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament) can be ignored if you have these two commandments. What he’s saying is that all the rest of the scriptures hang on, or are referenced off, these two commandments, meaning true obedience will be completed by love, not replaced by it. The ethical demands of the New Testament are tied in a similar fashion. For example, when James urges us to care for orphans and widows (James 1:27), we don’t dispense with this command because we only need to feel affection for people in need. Instead, we learn that physical care depends on love, such that care without love is empty (cf. 1 Cor. 13), and that love is completed by care, meaning love without care can’t be called love in the first place.
What Jesus points out in this two-fold commandment is that love of God and love of neighbor are intimately tied. True love of neighbor is impossible without love of God (i.e. adoring him and valuing what he values), while true love of God is incomplete without love of neighbor. God’s love, the love that he pours into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), is a love that overflows and acts; this is the same reason God created the world and gave his son to it in the first place (cf. John 3:16). Love of God will lead to love of neighbor, and both have inherent movement, propelling us to acts of service, devotion, sacrifice, and benevolence.
And when it comes to love, love of neighbor is often where the rubber meets the road. Luke 10:25-37 tells a similar story (Jesus likely got the “greatest commandment” question a lot), and in it Jesus’ interrogator responds, “But who is my neighbor?” He wanted an out, a way to only have to love certain people, to only give so much. But Jesus will teach a better way.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13) Not only are we called to love but, in Jesus, we are shown the measure of the stature of the fullness of love. In Christ we see one who came not to be served but to serve, who didn’t stay far off but came near, who made others’ burdens his own burdens, who died not for the deserving but for the undeserving. Such a love animates us in our vertical love for God, as we pour over in thanksgiving and affection for this love we could never deserve, and in our horizontal love for others, as we delight in their well-being and joy. Here in Matthew 22, we learn that love is the central hallmark of the Christian life, but in just a couple weeks, on Good Friday, we’ll learn what, or rather who, this kind of love looks like.
• What stood out to you in this passage?
• How would you describe the love that Jesus is talking about here?
• Why do you think Jesus ties love of God and love of neighbor together?
• In what situations does this command feel most demanding to you?
• What are some of the things that remind you of God’s love for you?
• How can God’s love for you help you live out this command?
• Where would you like to grow in your love for God and for others?