The Great Commandment

Ex 22:20-26 / 1 Thes 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40

By the time that Jesus came, the Israelites had been pondering, probing, and struggling for many centuries to hear what God had to say to them. Ever so slowly, as is recorded in the Old Testament, they had come to understand a great deal about who God is and what he has in mind for us. But what they had were still fragments.

Jesus put those pieces together and provided the missing links. And nowhere is that more plain than in today’s gospel. In answer to the lawyer’s question, “Which law is the most important?” Jesus gave an answer that looks so easy but is in fact a brilliant melding and expansion of Old Testament texts.

He starts by quoting Deuteronomy verbatim, “Love God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind.” And then he takes a text from Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and transforms the word “neighbor” to mean everybody and not just your countrymen.

And finally, he connects the two passages, the one about God and the one about neighbor, and makes them indivisible, telling us, “you can’t say you love God whom you cannot see, if you don’t love your neighbor whom you can see.”

No wonder Jesus made the lawyers nervous. It’s a tough and demanding way of living, but it’s the only way that will ever bring us joy, the only road that will ever lead us to communion.