Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of Matthew with you this week.
This week we will be looking at chapters 22 and 23 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Today, we will look at Matthew 22, verses 34-46 and we’ll focus on verses 36-39.
You may recall from yesterday that this week we’ll be looking at one long conversation that Jesus has with various groups. In this passage, the two groups that we’ve met already team up to ask Jesus one more difficult question. This is a final, united attempt to trip Jesus up and to force him to take sides so that he can be painted as a partisan person. The point of the question is to make Jesus take a theological position that can be criticised for being faulty and inadequate. Jesus is far, far to clever for that.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. It’s like asking a parent of three kids which is their favourite. Everyone knows that is a question that can’t be answered. Still, the Pharisees and the Sadducees think there is a chance they can get Jesus to say something wrong by asking him to choose.
Based on Jesus’ answer, it seems the point of the question was to make Jesus choose whether it was more important to love God—doing things that demonstrate that—or to love your fellow human beings—doing things that demonstrate that. If Jesus says it is more important to love God—the pious response—then maybe he doesn’t see the importance of loving other people. If Jesus says it is more important to love people—the humane response—then maybe he doesn’t see the true importance of loving God. What to say?
Jesus denies the premises that there is any difference between the two choices. Indeed, for Jesus, loving God and loving people are two sides of the same coin that one cannot separate.
It is important to know that Jesus is not saying anything new here, but quoting two very, very well known parts of Jewish scripture. The command to love God comes from the book of Deuteronomy, ch. 6. The command to love your neighbour comes from the book of Leviticus, ch. 19. Neither of these books is very familiar to us, but both were well known among the people Jesus was speaking to. Jesus’ answer denies that they are in any sort of opposition. You can’t have one without the other.
Since human beings are the image of God, mistreating them indicates that you don’t really love God. Equally, Christians believe that we can’t really offer the selfless acts that constitute love for other people until we’ve experienced the sacrificial, selfless love of God for us.
If this all begins to sound like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, you’re not far off. The point Jesus is making in all his answers is that the Pharisees and the Sadducees are asking the wrong questions. We are finite human beings; it shouldn’t surprise us that we don’t understand everything about an infinite, all wise God and all the intricacies of how that God designed the world. What is clear, however, are three things: God loves us more than we can know, and has sacrificed massively to show that love to us; we are called to show our gratitude to God by loving other people in a similar, selfless way; and, when we do, we will learn more about this God who loves us.
Lord of all, we thank you that you have loved us from our mothers’ wombs. Help us to see your love for us in our lives today. And, motivate us, in this way, to love the people we meet today in the same, selfless way. Amen.
READING: Matthew 22:34-46
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’
‘The son of David,’ they replied.
He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says,
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.’”
If then David calls him “Lord”, how can he be his son?’ No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.