Matthew chapter 22, verses 34-40
Once again we see Jesus being challenged by those who sought to embarrass him. ( Mt. 22. 34-40) For Matthew it was evident that they were setting the same “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” trap for Jesus as was the case when they asked him whether or not it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Rome.
It might help if we review the cast of characters before going any further. The Sadducees were members of a religious/political party holding several theological positions at variance with the Pharisees whose members emphasized traditional piety and minute detail. Both groups flourished from about 200 B.C. to 70 or 80 A.D.
The lawyers among them were experts in the Mosaic Law that also served as the law of the courts. Roman Law was not imposed on the Jewish people except in cases involving capital punishment. (That is why Jesus was brought before Pilot.) There were also, in the crowd, likely to be priests, a hereditary office reserved for members of the tribe of Levi. They were responsible for liturgy, ritual and sacrifice. (Even now elements of their liturgy live on in ours.)
And so Jesus faced a mixed bag of citizens and functionaries. The question posed one of the lawyers was: “What is the greatest commandment?” Broadly speaking, the Law contained close to 600 commandments and all were declared to be equal in importance. The questioner clearly hoped to spark a confrontation.
Jesus answered that He would identify the two commandments upon which depended all the others…“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself.”
It would seem that He had, once more, taken the wind out of their sails. In fact, Matthew indicates that this was the last time that they tried to fence with Him.
I am sure that some of them, whether Pharisee, Sadducee, Lawyer or priest stayed behind to discuss what Jesus had just said. I can see one of them shaking his head and asking the others: “If I succeed in loving God with ALL my heart, mind and soul …what is left with which to love my brothers and sisters?
I can hear another member of the little group thoughtfully responding: “NOTHING! …There can be nothing left if all is expended …NOTHING!”
And then they would understand. We cannot love God without, at the same time, loving each other for we are created in His image.
The implications of that conclusion would keep them busy for a long time. A lot to think about, a lot to share …for them, but also for us.