The Sunday Gospel: Matthew 22:35-46 The Greatest Commandment
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Amen,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
If you were ever given the chance in this life to talk to Jesus face to face, have a real conversation with Him, what would you say to Him? Well, I don’t know if any of us would be able to speak if we were face to face with Him, and we knew it was Him! We get a little chuckle sometimes, when we read about the 3 disciples going up Mt. Tabor with Christ, and in the midst of a marvelous vision and revelation, Peter just says, “It is good for us to be here!” I really don’t know if we could do any better!
In the Gospels, we are given a lot of conversations different people had with Jesus. But to be fair, they didn’t really have a clue about Who they were talking to! No one in their wildest imagination probably expected that the Messiah who would come, would be as poor, humble, and gentle as Jesus. So as they spoke with the Lord, as amazing were the things He said and did in front of their eyes, it’s a little understandable why it may have taken so long to really clue in to the fact that Jesus IS the Messiah, the Christ! So on the one hand, there were occasionally strange, and on the other, very interesting conversations.
Today’s Gospel is taken from Matthew 22:35-46. The conversation takes place just after a group of Sadducees, who don’t believe in the Resurrection, attempted to trick Jesus with a very unlikely scenario. So backing up just a little bit I will mention this earlier conversation, which takes place in Matthew 22:23-34. They asked Jesus the question about the one bride for seven brothers, about whose bride she will be in the resurrection. You can see there is this climate around there of different groups trying to play “gotcha” with Jesus. As if trying to see which political party He might be affiliated with…You see the other group, the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection.
In answering the Sadducees, in Matthew 22:31-32, Christ says to them
31 However, concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living!” (Mt 22:31–32). And it’s interesting to note here, that Jesus responds to the Sadducees, with a quote from the Pentateuch, which happens to be the only canon of scripture accepted by the Sadducees!
And once again the Lord silenced those who sought to trap Him. I am reminded of a line that is found in the 9th ode of the Akathist to the Theotokos which says: “Eloquent orators we see as dumb as fishes before you, Theotokos.” I can imagine the same thing of the Sadducees here.
Having observed this conversation, the Pharisees were together trying to come up with a plan. And so a young lawyer approaches Jesus: ’35 One of them, a lawyer, then asked him a question in order to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”’
We hear a lot about the Old Testament. We hear about the God of the Old Testament, about how angry and vengeful He seems to be. But often people totally ignore the most important instructions given by God in the Old Testament. As the lawyer asked Jesus, “which is the greatest commandment…?” Jesus, you remember, is the same God of the Old Testament. He is “the Lawgiver”. It is the pre-incarnate Christ Who gave to Moses the law written on the tablets. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And this is what Jesus answered the lawyer: ‘37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Love! Love of God, and of neighbor. This is the Lord’s message here. It is we humans who don’t listen, don’t care, or get confused by the message of repentance, thinking it comes from a place of anger or hate. But Jesus is pretty clear.
In the Gospel of Mark, where this narrative is also given, a little more is added on to the end of the dialogue with the lawyer, which we don’t see in Matthew. It’s interesting, and tells us a little more about the lawyer, his reaction to Christ’s words and Jesus’s interaction with him: ‘32 The scribe said to him, “It is well, teacher, that you have said truly that he is one, and there is none other but he, 33 and to love him with the whole heart, with the whole mind, with the whole soul, and with the whole strength; and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. It is more important than any whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that the scribe had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God!”’ (Mk 12:32–34).
He was positive, gentle, and loving. Not at all like the folks who were trying to trap Him and trick Him. And certainly not at all, like many in society say He is today. And now you can see Jesus starting to win over the lawyer, with love, not by beating him over the head or reacting angrily. You see brothers and sisters, this is how we as Christians living in this fallen society can and will be able to bring more people to meet and to know Christ. Through love, not through debates, with patience, not with arguments and brow beating. To show you the consistency of the Lord’s message to us I will share with you a few more verses from the Old and the New Testaments: First, from Deuteronomy 6:5 “5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Sound familiar? I hope so!
Then from Leviticus 19:18 “but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord”.
From the words of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Romans: ‘“9 Indeed, these commandments (“You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments exist) are all summed up in this very saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does not harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.’ (Rom 13:9–10).
And this from James 2:8 “8 However, if you fulfill the royal law found in the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”
If you were thinking about these verses and thought “I can do that! “, here’s a verse with an added difficulty!
“But I tell you: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you! Pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:44–45).
Difficult words! These words are not the words of a cruel and aloof creator, or one who just winds up the universe like a watch and then stands back and lets it go. Listen again to the end of that last quote from Matthew: “ so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”
Going back to today’s gospel, Jesus went to say, “40 The entire law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Everything in the commandments has as its purpose the building up of love for God and neighbor. How important is this component? Love. Let us listen to the Apostle Paul in his 1 epistle to the Corinthians:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give out all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body so that I will burn but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”(1 Co 13:1–3).
I want to share with you a few words of a recently canonized saint, St. Porphyrios, from a book called Wounded by Love.
“Christ is joy, the true light, happiness. Christ is our hope. Our relation to Christ is love, eros, passion, enthusiasm, longing for the divine. Christ is everything. He is our love. He is the object of our desire. This passionate longing for Christ is a love that cannot be taken away. This is where joy flows from.
“Christ himself is joy. He is a joy that transforms you into a different person. It is a spiritual madness, but in Christ. This spiritual wine inebriates you like unadulterated wine. …
“Fast as much as you can, make as many prostrations as you can, attend as many vigils as you like, but be joyful. Have Christ’s joy. It is the joy that lasts forever, that brings eternal happiness. It is the joy of our Lord that gives assured serenity, serene delight and full happiness. All joyful joy that surpasses every joy. Christ desires and delights in scattering joy, in enriching the faithful with joy…
“This is what our religion is. This is the direction we must take. Christ is Paradise, my children. What is Paradise? It is Christ. Paradise begins here and now….
“One thing is our aim – love for Christ, for the Church, for our neighbor. Love, worship of, and craving for God, the union with Christ and with the Church is Paradise on earth. Love towards Christ and towards one’s neighbor, towards everyone, including enemies.” -from Wounded By Love, On Divine Eros pg 96-97.
St. Porphyrios is special. All the Saints of the Church are special. When you read their words, they all express themselves in their own way. We are very fortunate in our times, to have access to the words and writings of so many of our Church’s Saints. When we wonder “how should we live?”, “how can the Gospel be lived out today?”, we can look at the Saints of our Church, read their lives, who lived in various times, and places, and different circumstances. But all were distinguished by their love for God and neighbor.
So brothers and sisters, the greatest commandment has been given to us. Let us try, as if our lives depended on it, to put it into practice in our own lives. Because really, our lives, our eternal lives does depend on it! Let us really live as though we are the children of our Heavenly Father!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!