The following is a reflection on Matthew 22:34-46, the Gospel lesson appointed for October 23rd, 2011 according to the New Revised Common Lectionary. (Proper 25, Year A) On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Hebrew Bible Lesson for the same day, and
• a version of the Prayers of the People, based on the lessons of the day.
Twice in Jesus’ ministry we find the odd confluence of lawyers coming to test Jesus, and the commandments to love God and neighbor.
In Luke 10, a lawyer approaches Jesus, asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, and the stunned lawyer spurted out the commands to love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said, “do this and you shall live.”
In Matthew and Mark we find a lawyer coming to test Jesus, asking him “What is the greatest commandment,” and Jesus gives the answer of love.
Nelson’s standard volume, Gospel Parallels lists these encounters as parallels. In my estimation, they are related, and their similarities are fascinating–but I also see them as two different encounters with two different lawyers, and different conversational flows.
And the same exact answer.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
These are two commandments from the first five books of the Bible, also known as the “Torah” or “The Law.” And, at least in these two encounters, they are for Jesus the bedrock of God’s teaching. They are the foundation of what one must do to inherit eternal life, and they are the greatest commandments upon which hang all the law and the prophets.
What I notice here, is the distinct nature of this love: it pushes outward. It’s a love that pushes “upwardly” (so to speak) to God, and “horizontally” (so to speak) to others here on earth.
What’s also interesting is that Jesus’ testing-lawyers don’t find fault with his answer. In Luke, the lawyer asks a clarifying question (And, who is my neighbor?), which inspires the story of the Good Samaritan. And, in Matthew and Mark, the conversation just moves on without any challenge–and, in fact in Mark the questioner praises Jesus for his answer.
The problem is, that having the right answer, and living the right answer are two different things.
Jesus calls us to love God with all that we have and all that we are–trusting that God’s love and care for us will always be there. And, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor–also trusting that if our neighbors are loving their neighbors, then they will be loving us in return.
And in THAT holy confluence, love abounds–and fear, jealousy, hoarding, and malice melt away, because there’s just no room, or need for them anymore.
In the words of Jesus, if we do that, we will all live.