The Greatest Commandment

An online magazine asked the question, “If you had to summarize your life in six words, what would they be?”. The idea came from a quotation, attributed to Ernest Hemingway. He was said to have writing a 6-word short story; “For sale; baby shoes, never worn (Ortberg).”

The answers received by the magazine was huge and they were turned into a book, “Not Quite What I Was Planning”. Here are a few to consider:

“Savior complex makes for many disappointments."                                                     A nine-year-old boy wrote, "Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends."                   "The psychic said I'd be richer."                                                                 "Tombstone won't say: 'Had health insurance.'"                                                      "Not a good Christian, but trying."

It is easy to find statements that summarize something. It is quite rare to find one that captures the essence of what is being examined. In last week’s episode of The Flash there was a great illustration of how some summaries fall short. It was a t-shirt that read,

“Haikus are easy                                                                                                              But sometimes they don’t make sense                                                                Refrigerator

This ‘greatest commandment’ is recorded in the first three gospels. In Luke, the teacher of the law speaks the words and Jesus commend him and says, “Do this and you will live”. But then the leader asks, “And who is my neighbor” (10:29). Mark’s recording has a scribe agreeing with Jesus’ statement about the commandments. Then Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (12:34). Matthew doesn’t add any of the details as his fellow disciples did. Because Matthew was concerned with showing the reader that Jesus was the fulfillment and the embodiment of both commandments through His incarnation and glorification.


This is not a new question for the Jews. Scribes and Rabbis had argued about which of the laws was the greatest. It was a simple thing, comparatively, to Jews divide the law into light and weighty laws. It is apparent that “Do not kill” is more important than not eating a kid boiled in its mother’s milk. The trap, for Jesus, was that no matter what he “selected for the first place would certainly have been placed lower by others (Morris 562).” But Jesus turns to the most recalled passage among Jews and quotes the Shema, the prayer which Jews prayed morning and evening. The first line is Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And then it starts to quote Deuteronomy 6:5-

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.

The most amazing thing happens as Jesus doesn’t stop with loving God but continues by linking, loving one’s neighbor as yourself. This is from the passage Thomas read this morning, Leviticus 19. Loving one’s neighbor is not second place to loving God. “Like it” refers to the type of love shown to God is to be the same love shown to one’s neighbor. In writing about Jesus’ understanding, Myron Augsburger said, “Jesus was probably the first professor to draw together in this way the two passages…thereby introducing the scribe to a new hermeneutic of love over law (Augsburger and Ogilvie).”

Loving Neighbors

I ran across a cartoon of a person shaking the pastor’s hand as he leaves worship. He says, “I’d like to see you love my neighbor.” Many of us have built-in limitations as to the word ‘neighbor’. When the Scribe in Luke 10 asks, “who is my neighbor?” it is in action to this very teaching we have here in Matthew.

Jesus answer is the story of the good Samaritan. I believe the reason we like that story is that we don’t have any Samaritans today nor do we understand the dislike between them and Jews. Perhaps, we should make that person a drug addict, African-American, illegal alien, homeless, atheists, or anyone else we distrust or dislike.

Jesus’ point is that neighbor includes everyone. It includes enemies. Jesus says to carry a Roman soldier’s pack two miles, not just one. It includes the unworthy, thus Jesus eats with tax-collectors and sinners. It includes the outcast like the Samaritan woman at noon beside a well. It even includes those caught up in sin like another woman brought to Jesus for his judgment. "Anyone who loves God and people wholeheartedly is not going to come short in religious observances, nor in doing what is proper to other people (Morris 564).”


The reason for these two being singled out by Jesus is given in verse 40, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” The Law and Prophets hang on these words of Jesus. It’s a carpentry word for the hinges of a door or  the nail on the wall. It, these laws, are structural, so that all the Torah and the Prophets rest (Lange and Schaff).

At one stroke he [Jesus] did away with any understanding of the service of God that sees it as concerned with the acquiring of merit or with an emphasis on liturgical concerns. What matters can be summed up in one word: love (Morris 564)."

If you ever wondered at Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels within wheels, Hosea’s choice for a wife, the Exodus, and various evil kings, and falls into idolatry? Here is the answer. It happens because of a love we demonstrate toward God and the Love we’re supposed to have for others. Fail, in either of these two and we are left wallowing in sin.

Jesus takes the initiative in verses 41-46. He isn’t trying to trick them for “this question…has to do with Jesus’ own identity and calling (Hagner 649).” The word translated ‘lord’ has two very different meanings in this passage. The Jews used kurios as a Greek equivalent of Adoni. This was used in place of the Tetragrammaton YHWH which the Jews refuse to speak. Dr. Abdu Malik, in Hebrew, when the English text would read, “The Lord, God” we would read it as, “Adoni, Adoni”. What Jesus does is quote Psalm 110:1 from the LXX, the Greek OT.

The second use of this term is when David calls his son, My Lord. “David calls his son not Yahweh but Adoni, ‘my lord’ (Hagner 561).” No father ever called their offspring Lord “by Jewish standards of familial respect, it is rather the son who might refer to his father as ‘my lord’ (ibid.).” Those, gathered there to trick Jesus, had no answer to the question with which Jesus poses.

They have been waiting for Messiah. They had looked for the one who would set them free. But they couldn’t reconcile their expectation with the man standing before them.

what Jesus asked them. They all believed Messiah would be the offspring of David. But they had no idea why David would call his son, “my Lord”. That is because, Jesus is NOT the expected Messiah, who would raise up an army like the Maccabees and push Rome out. Jesus is NOT the one who would cause Israel to become the center of the earth and restore the power and prestige of David’s throne. Dr. Eilson says,

“This passage shows Jesus declaring the freedom of the Messiah to establish the Kingdom by another path than the political and military methods of David (Augsburger, Myron and Ogilvie).”

The psalm Jesus quotes begins:

The Lord says to my Lord:                                                                                           “Sit at my right hand,                                                                                                    until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

Let me affirm that you and I will NEVER love God or our neighbors apart from the Love of God, grabbing hold of us and the power of the Holy Spirit, entering our very souls. Without the saving power of Jesus Christ, loving God and others is impossible. We may care for them, we may even do nice things, but the love God envisions us having is not possible without faith in Christ. If you are tired of straining at loving god or your neighbor maybe, it’s time you give up trying. Maybe it’s time you put your trust in someone who loves you more than you’ll ever know. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start following Jesus. Let’s pray.


Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 24: Matthew. 1st ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. Print.

Hagner, Donald Alfred. Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 33B. 1st ed. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1995. Print.

Lange, Johann Peter, and Philip Schaff. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 1st ed. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Print.              

 Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992. Print.

Ortberg, John. All the Places You'll Go . . . Except When You Don't. Tyndale, 2015. Print.