Extended reading: Matthew 21:14-22:33 withered fig tree, questioning Jesus’ authority, parable of the tenants and wedding banquet, paying taxes to Caesar, marriage at resurrection
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus was a good Jew, so he began by reciting a portion of what is called the Shema, the command to “Hear” – words from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This was part of a daily Jewish prayer. The second commandment comes from Leviticus 19:18, which says in part, “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
In Matthew and Mark’s gospels, a teacher of the law comes up to Jesus to ask him this question about the greatest commandment. Mark’s account is fuller (Mark 12:28-34), but what struck me was that Jesus was willing to submit to their questioning and answer. He knew they were testing him, but he had no problem with giving a good answer. I don’t see any indignation on Jesus’ part, or any defensiveness. He simply gave the answer, no matter their motivations for asking.
That attitude Jesus had – call it humility or simply a desire to share God’s Word in all circumstances – is another reason I want to be more like him. Jesus rested in God’s authority alone. No need to hang on to self pride. No need to have to justify himself. He knew who he was – God’s only son. And who are we? We too are dearly beloved of God. We are here to please God alone, by how we live and what we say. I want to let go of my defensiveness and self-doubt and find my identity in the Lord, like Jesus.
God of love and mercy, the more I look in your holy Word, the more I look at the character and person of Jesus, the more I want to be like him. Help me learn down deep into my soul what you desire of me and how to live in ways that please you. Let me give this day to you, in grateful praise. In the love of Jesus I pray. Amen.