Year A: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22: 34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him, “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Were you at one stage of your life a legalist? Have you outgrown being a legalist? What do you think a faithful Christian’s attitude should be toward civil law? Toward church law? Explain.
  2. Are you open to new ideas and new insights, or do you initially resist them? What about your upbringing accounts for your response?
  3. Do you think God has a “preferential option for the poor”? Do you think Christians are required to have a “preferential option for the poor”? Explain.
  4. In what specific ways do you “love yourself well”? How does this deepen your love of God and neighbor?

Biblical Context

Mary McGlone

This passage from Matthew is set in the midst of various controversies that Jesus encounters with both Sadducees and Pharisees. One of the Pharisees, “a scholar of the law,” tested Jesus by first ironically addressing him as teacher and then asking, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” While set in the context of a test, it is obvious from other writings that this was a concern among the Jewish community of Jesus’ day. The possibility of not being able to follow through completely on all of the 613 Torah commandments led the community to prioritize some over others. Choosing certain commandments over others led to controversy among scholars of the law. Jesus responds not so much by choosing one commandment over the others, but rather by explicating the underlying principles that govern the carrying out of all commandments.

Jesus combines two commandments from the Torah, stating that the second is like the first. The first, from Deuteronomy, is an integral part of the Shema (6:4-9), the daily prayer and primary confession of the Jewish community. It calls for love of God with one’s whole being — heart, soul and mind. Jesus calls this the first and greatest commandment. Then he adds a second, saying it is like the first. Quoting Leviticus 19:18, Jesus states, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love of neighbor in Leviticus is explicated in a very practical, real and just manner. Key to love of neighbor is right relationship, the Jewish understanding of justice. Others in Jesus’ day had also linked these two commandments. Jesus not only approves of this linkage but affirms that these linked commandments are at the core of all his teachings.

For Matthew’s Jesus love of God and neighbor as self are the interpretive key to what the “kingdom of heaven” is like. The final sentence of today’s passage clearly expounds what is essential in living in fidelity to God’s will and purpose: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” The law and the prophets are synonyms for all of God’s revealed word. Jesus is saying that these two commandments are the lens, criteria and basis for carrying out all the other commandments.

Matthew’s Jesus also expands Jewish understanding of the neighbor. In Leviticus 19 neighbor is understood to be only a fellow Israelite. However, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus clearly states that God desires us to love enemies and to pray for those who persecute you (5:43-44). In other words, the care and concern for the neighbor is thoroughly inclusive and expansive. It includes the entire human family: the loved one and the enemy. It demands not just general concern for the other but very specific demands of attunement to the needs of the other and the obligations to meet those needs. These two passages specify the obligation to feed, clothe, visit and care for the other no matter the circumstances.

These commandments are the core of our living in fidelity to God and to one another, especially our fellow Christians. Jesus’ directives form the core of Christian living and unite in a very profound manner all those who have committed themselves to Christian discipleship. As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let us strive for that unity Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17, “that they may all be one.”

How Do I Love Me?

By Carolyn A. Wright

How do I love me? Let me count the ways. That’s right, you heard me: “How do I love me.”

Our world is fraught with fear, isolation, injustice and violence. What might be at root? Certainly, unbridled ego and arrogance, unrestrained anger and resentment, untethered pain and desperation play crucial roles in the escalation of the destruction of civility, acceptance and promise.

In the Gospel, we hear again the greatest of commandments: “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. … Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love you? How do I love me? What is at root? I wonder.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians provides assurance that their faith is solid, real, dynamic and gives witness to the resurrected Son of God. In faith, they received the word with joy from the Holy Spirit. In doing so, the word sounds forth from their lips in every place. It is interesting to note that the verb Paul uses is exēcheō. According to Earl J. Richard, author of the biblical commentary for First and Second Thessalonians (Sacra Pagina Series), this verb occurs only here in this Scripture. Richard also points out this usage of the verb exēcheō, “seek[s] no further specificity than that of a sound emanating in all directions from a source.” Paul affirms the witness of the Thessalonians — lives lived in joy serving God. Can we say the same? Does the word sound forth, emanate in all directions from our lips? Am I — are you — truly a person of faith serving God? Do I receive and do I embody this gift? How do I love me; perhaps by receiving God’s gift of faith?

The Exodus reading provides assurance to the people of Israel that God is their hope. If those outside of the community are oppressed or harmed, God hears their cry. If the marginalized of the community — the widow, orphan, the poorest and most vulnerable — are wronged, God hears their cry. God responds to everyone with an allencompassing compassion which lifts and heals, which is our hope. Thus, Exodus affirms the witness of a God of compassion, a God who is our hope. Do we truly hope in God alone? Do I receive and do I embody this gift? How do I love me; perhaps by receiving God’s gift of hope?

Finally, the Gospel provides assurance to the Matthean community that God is their love. They are given the commands: Love the Lord, your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. But, what is the source of that love? It is the love of God which sounds forth to our hearts and mind. It is a love which transforms our selfish and self-centered ways of being and moves us to love anew our God, others and ourselves. Thus, the Gospel affirms the witness of a God of love. Do we truly love? Do I receive and embody this gift? How do I love me; perhaps by receiving God’s gift of love?

I wonder. If I accept and embody the gifts of faith, hope and love — God’s free offering to all humanity — might I begin to truly understand what it means to love me? Might I accept God’s virtue of love to quell my unbridled ego and arrogance? Receive God’s virtue of faith to temper my unrestrained anger and resentment?

Assent to God’s virtue of hope to heal my pain and desperation and in turn, make a turn in my daily living to civility, acceptance and promise.

I wonder, what is at root? If we accept and embody the gifts of faith, hope and love, might we turn together toward the One who offers us the true root of our being — the one True Vine?