Matthew 22:34-36: A question put by the Pharisees
First, to put Jesus to the test, the Sadducees had asked him about belief in the resurrection and were firmly put down by Jesus (Mt 22:23-33). Now the Pharisees come to the fore. The Pharisees and Sadducees were enemies, but they become friends in criticising Jesus. The Pharisees come together and one of them represents them by asking for a clarification: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?" In those days, the Jews had a huge number of norms, customs and laws, great and small, to regulate the observance of the Ten Commandments. One point concerning two commandments of the law of God was a matter of great discussion among the Pharisees. Some said: “All the laws, great or small, have equal value because they all come from God. We cannot make distinctions in matters concerning God”. Others said: “Some laws are more important than others and thus they deserve greater observance!” The Pharisees want to know where Jesus stands in this debate.
Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus’ reply.
Jesus replies by quoting some words from the Bible: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind!" (cfr Dt 6:4-5). In Jesus’ days, pious Jews recited this phrase three times a day, morning, noon and night. It was a well-known prayer among them as the Our Father is for us today. And Jesus goes on quoting the Old Testament: “This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18). And he concludes: “On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets too”. In other words, this is the way to God and the neighbour. There is no other. The greatest temptation of human beings is that of trying to separate these two loves, because in this way the poverty of others would not discomfort their consciences.
**c) A deepening: **
The word “Pharisees” means “separate” because their rigid way of observing the Law of God separated them from others. Among themselves they called each other companions because they formed a community whose ideal was that of observing absolutely the norms and all the commandments of the law of God. The way of life of most of them was a witness to the people because they lived by their labour and dedicated many hours every day to study and meditation on the law of God. But there was something very negative: they sought their safety not in God but in the rigorous observance of the Law of God. They trusted more in what they did for God than in what God did for them. They had lost the notion of gratuity, which is the source and fruit of love. Before such a false attitude towards God, Jesus reacts firmly and insists on the practice of love that makes the observance of the law and of its true meaning relative. In an age of change and uncertainty, such as now, the same temptation reappears, that of seeking safety before God, not in the goodness of God towards us, but in the rigorous observance of the Law. If we succumb to such a temptation, then we deserve the same censure from Jesus.
**ii) A parallel between Mark and Matthew: **
In the Gospel of Mark, it is a doctor of the law who asks the question (Mk 12:32-33). After listening to Jesus’ reply, the doctor agrees with Him and draws the following conclusion: “Yes, to love God and the neighbour is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice”. Or else, the commandment of love is the most important among all the commandments concerned with cult and sacrifices of the Temple and with external observances. This statement already existed in the Old Testament from the time of the prophet Hosea (Hos 6:6; Ps 40:6-8; Ps 51:16-17). Today we would say that the practice of love is more important than novenas, promises, fasts, prayers and processions. Jesus approves of the conclusion reached by the doctor of the law and says: “You are not far from the Kingdom”! The Kingdom of God consists of this: acknowledging that the love of God is equal to the love of neighbour. We cannot reach God without giving ourselves to the neighbour!
**iii) The greatest commandment: **
The greatest commandment and the first is this: “You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30; Mt 22:37). In so far as the people of God, throughout the centuries, understood the meaning
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