So the man came up to Jesus and asked “Teacher. what is the greatest commandment?
The man was a Pharisee and a lawyer. Scripture tell us that he asked this to test Jesus.
I wonder why. Was it because he wanted to know the facts? Certainly Pharisees and lawyers love the “facts.” Perhaps it was to check the facts.
Or perhaps he wanted to know what the greatest commandment was for another reason. Perhaps he wanted to know what the one thing was that he should really focus on because he felt like he will have trouble keeping all of the commandments, so he should just focus on the greatest one.
Or perhaps it was like a situation that I once found myself in, in a group of like-minded people.I was talking to a fella and we heard a woman in the group next to us say that in her church they had communion the “right way”. They used grape juice.I commented to the man that I was talking to that to make wine you need a barrel or a sheepskin or a goatskin. Making wine is a fairly organic process. But to make grape juice, you need a factory. There just weren’t that many factories in Palestine at that time. And so when she came to me and asked “How do they have communion in your church?” I knew it was a test.
Or perhaps the Pharisee wanted to know how we could use Jesus. Certainly he was aware of when the Sadducee asked Jesus that silly riddle about the woman with seven dead husbands, and which one would she be married to in heaven. He would have been aware of how Jesus kind of mowed down the Sadducees in debate, until they “dared not ask any more questions”.
With the Pharisees and Sadducees being in opposition in the Jewish ruling party, perhaps he wondered if Jesus might be of some use to him politically. If He was against the Sadducees, perhaps he was for the Pharisees.
Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?
Jesus answer seems to go directly to the mans heart.
Jesus answers that the first and great commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.” Actually, Jesus is quoting the Shema, which begins, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
At this point, the Pharisee might have unrolled a scroll to say to Jesus, “Actually Jesus, it says here that the first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.’”
But he didn’t…
Jesus continues, “And the second is like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, this is the commandment that Jesus left behind for us, when he basically said…until I get back, love each other.
The Pharisee might have rolled his eyes and said, “Actually Jesus, that is incorrect. It says here that the second commandment tell us not to worship any graven images.”
But he didn’t…
Does Jesus even know the Ten Commandments? Is He changing them?
He continues with, “On these two commandments, hang all the law and The Prophets.”
Suspended from these two “greatest” commandments are all of the laws on one side, and The Prophets on the other.
All the laws. all six-hundred some of them and I’ll bet the Pharisee knew them all. The laws, static and timeless, hang from these two commandments. And on the other side, the words of The Prophets. Jesus knew that he was speaking to a Pharisee. The Sadducees, you see, believe only in The Torah, the first five books. But the Pharisees also accept the wisdom books and the books of The Prophets. And who are The Prophets? They are men, chosen vessels of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, to speak with Gods own words about what is happening now. It is The Prophets that cry over Jerusalem and warn us that if we continue down the road we’re on, that danger looms. It is The Prophets that tell us how we are doing right now in keeping His static and timeless laws.
I don’t want to be too hard on the Pharisees. My hunch is that they devoted themselves to the law because that believed that it was righteous to do so. But I don’t have to worry about being too hard on them, because Jesus sure was.
It was Jesus parable about the Pharisee that kind of sounds like. “Did you hear the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?”
Recall how the Pharisee was standing outside the temple, praying in a loud voice about how great he was at keeping laws and over-fasting and over-tithing. How he thanked God that he wasn’t like some other groups of crummy people, and how he even got personal and pointed a finger at the tax collector, giving thanks that he wasn’t like that guy. By elevating himself above others, he had actually broken both of Jesus two great commandments.
By loving only the law, we are able to walk past a bleeding, half-naked man in a ditch on the Jericho road.
Certainly Paul understood Jesus greatest commandments. Consider this, from Romans 13:8
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Jesus told us that he didn’t come to change the law, but to fulfill it.
How do we fulfill it? We show our love for God by loving each other. All of us and always.
I will leave it to you to work out who your neighbor is. but it seems to me that my neighbor is everyone that I will in some way be connected to today. That’s who I am to love.
In the Catechism that we learned as children, when we learned the ten commandments, the word love is absent. We are taught that the first four are about our relationship with God, and the last six are about our relationship with each other. But for the most part, the word love does not appear.Even if love is inferred, or imbued, or implied, we are too stubborn, or self-absorbed, or foolish, or perhaps just too dense to see it.
How did Jesus fulfill the law? He added what we couldn’t see in our quest to keep the rules.
Love. Jesus added love.
So, Mr. Pharisee. you want to know what the greatest commandment is?