Two Down, One More to Go!
Text: Matthew 22 : 15 - 46
The first group of people who came were probably dominated by the Herodians, since they were mentioned by name (Cf. Matthew 22:16). The question posed to Jesus would be one that the Herodians would be concerned about – the paying of taxes to Caesar.
The second group of people who came to see Jesus was made up mainly of Sadducees (Matthew 22:23). They were also mentioned by name, and the question posed by them was almost typical. They seriously doubted the doctrine of the Resurrection.
Both groups were soundly defeated. The third and final group, the Pharisees turned up soon after. These were supposed to be the most scholarly of the three groupings. Their question was certainly more intriguing.
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced
the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them,
a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing him, and saying,
‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?'”
This question must have seemed to be a really tough one for anyone to answer! If all the laws were to be added together, there would have been 613 of them. 365 of them were stated negatively and the rest, 248 were stated positively. How would anyone be able to pick out “the great commandment in the law”?
Even if Jesus were to pick out one of the Ten Commandments, the Pharisees could debate with Him concerning the value and significance of the other nine. Jesus seemed to have been put into a really tight corner! This question was delicately posed by one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, to signify that he was an expert in the laws of Moses.
If the Pharisees had exchanged knowing smiles with each other, they did not last very long! They must have been stunned when Jesus came up with this reply, without any hesitation at all.
“Jesus said to him, ”You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.'”
1. An Effective summary
What Jesus did was to summarize all 613 laws into this single commandment taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. This text is commonly called “The Shema”. This text is recited morning and evening by Jews in their prayers.
“Hear, O Israel: ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ ”
2. An explanation needed
As we look at the text from Deuteronomy, we note that there was a slight change in Matthew’s quotation of the text cited. Instead of the word “strength”, Jesus used the word “mind”. Does this affect the meaning of the text in any way? Not really. If we were to look at the Gospel of Mark, where this incident was also recorded, we have another slight variation.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
The word “strength” in the Hebrew text is an effective word that adds to the idea of loving the Lord with all one’s heart and soul. Obviously, if one was to love the Lord with heart and soul, one must love Him with one’s whole being too. Jesus camped on this whole idea of loving the Lord in totality and then emphasized that this love should include “the mind” as well.
Mark combined both ideas together and thus in his text he added “mind” and “strength”.
3. The second commandment
The lawyer had only asked Jesus if He could state what the great commandment was! Jesus went a step further and said, that to balance the first commandment, the second one must be stated as well. The second one was to love one’s neighbour as oneself!
The second text that Jesus cited was taken from the Book of Leviticus. The full text reads,
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart…
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge
against the children of your people,
but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Having stated that, Jesus made a profound declaration,
“On these two commandments, hang all the Law
and the Prophets.”
Jesus was virtually proposing these thoughts in an attempt to engage the lawyer or all the Pharisees concerning what He had just said. Would they care to debate on any of these points that He had raised up? No one could have summarized the entire law better than what was declared here! Matthew noted that the Pharisees were silent!