The Greatest Commandment

Which is the greatest commandment? The Pharisee sent their best and brightest to test Jesus with this question. They had changed tactics because Jesus had anticipated their every move, had neutralized the Sadducee’s every previous attempt, so they sent a lawyer, now their expectation is to make him take a position. They are trying to put a label on Jesus, put him in a box and file him away. Just like today leaders were known by and categorized by what they supported.  You see debating the law then was like today, everyone had an opinion, everyone had laws that they considered the greatest, or the least, the lightest or the heaviest burden to fulfill. There were 613 laws and 10 commandments so it made for a pretty popular debate. Some thought that the law about the fringes on the garments was the greatest; some that the omission of washing was as bad as murder (come to think of it some still do); still others that the third commandment was the greatest. They really did not respect Jesus even though they called him “Teacher”. Perhaps they thought the question would force Jesus to take a position for or against one of the common answers to this very popular question and that doing so would in turn enable the Pharisees to identify Him as a follower of someone or a supporter of a faction whose position on the greatest commandment they could then tie his authority to.

Then as today people thought they could tell all about a person by what laws they supported and beliefs they upheld, pro-life,  pro-choice, democrat, republican, Baptist, Methodist, the point is the Pharisee’s expectations were that they would be a be able to label Jesus and that would allow them to question his authority and ultimately to slot Jesus neatly into a box of expectations, they expected to denounce him, they expected to arrest him and finally they expected to condemn him to death. Unfortunately, for the Pharisee the question was not rooted in God’s law but based on a wrong understanding of the Law. The Pharisee and Sadducees looked upon the Mosaic laws as something that could be debated in the secular world, which commandments had to be followed versus which could be taken care of with a sin offering. That the laws were not just for men to follow but that they could be modified and transcended by man, that whoever argued for or against a law and won the argument was victorious by the will of God and righteous in the Lords eyes.

I often wonder how much different we are from those men and women who came before. I honestly think that if you take away the technology we have not changed at all. We spend our time trying to get around the laws we make, we are more concerned with the here and now than with eternity. We create laws to govern every facet of our lives to prevent evil from entering our world, and then cry out against God when the evil ignores our laws. We define what is good and what is bad by whether it is currently politically correct. We elevate the opinion of actors to that of a prophet and follow them blindly rather than our Lord and Savior Jesus. Our children idolize sports figures rather than God. No, even with technology, we are no different today than the Sadducee and Pharisee, 2000 years ago. We are just as confused and anxious to keep our piece of the pie as they were. I am not saying that we are not good Christians, the men of the Sanhedrin were not bad Jews, but they were complacent, they wanted to keep the status quo, they liked things the way they were and they and we spend so much time trying to get around the laws that are made by man and reinterpreting the commandments to fit our 21st century lifestyle, forgetting that God had already given them and us the only laws that mattered, the 10 commandments and they are eternal and not open for debate.

So, when the Pharisee asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, he first had to remove the secular from the question and place it firmly where it belonged in a covenantal relationship with God. Jesus answered ” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment “. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which is also part of the Shema which is Jewish for (Hear), now the Shema is the oldest Jewish prayer, it’s recited every morning and every evening and would have been known to everyone without question. The first part goes like this:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom forever and ever. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates”.

That’s just a part of the Shema and it is central to the Jewish faith, as I said it’s the first prayer in the morning and the last in the evening. This answer alone would have been enough but Jesus took this opportunity to teach the Pharisee the true meaning of God’s will as he had done so many times before with the Sadducee, he continues with a second commandment Leviticus 19:18 “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Not only does he connect Deuteronomy and Leviticus but he hangs all of the laws and prophets upon this connection. Let me say that again because it’s very important to us as well. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

It is important to realize that Jesus did not change the commandments or the law, that would have been dangerous, rather he placed everything in relationship to God and through God love of self and neighbor, by breaking it down into its most basic form Love God and Love Everyone and you will never break the law. What was unique and what no one had done before was to connect both commandments together. Only Matthew’s Gospel has that connection “and the second is like it”. In the Greek language like has several different meanings just as it does in English (similar to or of the same), however the Greek form used is Homoia and it is used only 16 times in the NT and only 5 times is it meaning translated as “the same”, not similar to that box or like my shirt or sort of blue but the same as or identical to. Jesus is not simply saying that loving God and your neighbor are sort of the same thing, he is tying them together and interconnecting them as one and the same. Stop and think about that for a second, to love your neighbor not just as yourself but as you love God. That’s a tough one, but love and loving your neighbor is a central theme throughout the NT, and found in many places, like:

1 John 3:18 “Little children, let us not love, with word or with tongue, but in, deed and truth”

James 2:8 “However, if you carry out the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself…”.

Romans 13-8-10 “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves someone else has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does not commit evil against a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law”.

And finally, Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself “.

Jesus was telling them that all other laws hang upon this, and you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might and you shall not take vengeance, or bear a grudge against any of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.  By combining those two commandments Jesus is telling us that we must love everyone as we love ourselves and God, this does not mean just your friends and family. It means the guy on the street corner begging, the rotten so and so that stole your parking space at Walmart or whoever got the last doughnut at Peppers. It means praying for those people who are trying to kill us because we are children of God, it means forgiving those who would enslave us and our children in the name of progress. It means trusting God to handle the inexplicable in our lives, letting him heal the carnage caused by our own insanity. For if you truly love your neighbor as you love yourself and God, then you will not murder yourself, you will not steal, lie, or commit adultery, against yourself, you will honor the sabbath and God and none before him, by loving your neighbor as yourself and God it will be impossible for you to break any of God’s laws. But how many of us can do this really commit to this? Sure, it’s easy to come to church on Sunday and tithe and get your fire insurance, of course I love God with all my heart, soul and mind after all I come to church and worship, I even come when it’s not Christmas or Easter, woohoo!!! But do we come with an open soul for the holy spirit to fill, with an open mind to be filled with the words of God, and an open heart that we may share God’s love with our neighbor? I don’t know, I try, but I think that I often miss the mark.

Just as the Sadducee and Pharisee missed the point of Jesus’s ministry. Though they had never had the law explained to them in such a manner, with such authority, they were still unable to see Jesus as the Messiah because they were looking for a King a worldly savior and not The Lord and Savior. Still Jesus gave them one last chance to hit the mark, for Jesus was there for them as well. Once the Pharisee had been silenced as the Sadducee had been, Jesus posed one final question to them. What do you think about the Christ? Whose son, is he? They said to him “David’s”

This was something that they could answer immediately because the Messiah was to be a descended son of David, which Jesus was. This put the Pharisee back on firm footing because the question matched their expectations of what Jesus was supposed to be doing. The fact that Jesus was descended from David through Joseph would have been common knowledge and their expectation that he wanted to overthrow their powerbase and become king of Israel would finally be confirmed. After all he had just been hailed as the “Son of David” by the crowds upon his entry into Jerusalem. His own disciples had no clue and were expecting the same thing, an earthly kingdom and to get rid of the Romans and their occupation of Israel. This was everyone’s expectation of Jesus. Instead he answers them with another question, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”

Again, Jesus redirects the Pharisee from this world and their expectations, their wrong interpretation of the scripture to the Messiah and Gods promise, that a son of david would also be the Messiah, the son of God. Not what they were expecting. The Pharisee could not answer this as that would validate Jesus, while failing to answer was in itself an admission. They did not dare ask any more questions from that day forth, because many of the Pharisee and Sadducee were beginning to be swayed by Jesus which made him more dangerous because he was not following their expectations. What are our expectations of Jesus, are we in the same boat as the Pharisee? Are we asking where his kingdom on earth is, or rather where is my kingdom on earth. Do we put Jesus in a box of expectations, safely on a shelf and bring him out when we are in need, when we get that call, or that test result? Do we only have faith when it’s safe to have faith, when are expectations are met? Perhaps if the Pharisee had taken that last step, they would have been able to see the Messiah in Jesus, they would not have let their expectations rule their perception. Are our expectations any loftier or are we focused on this kingdom and what Jesus was or are we willing to reject our expectations and thank God for what Jesus is, now. Perhaps we sometimes let our expectations dictate our faith rather than letting our faith run free of expectations as it should. I would like you to remember three things from today. Do not put Jesus in a box of expectations, rather put your expectations in a box and give them to Jesus because he has already shown us the way, Love God, Love Everyone and you to will have fulfilled the greatest commandment.

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