We spend a lot of our time as teachers giving quizzes and grading answers. But there are times when the answers we get are not at all what we are looking for. Today we’re going to look at a pop quiz that was given to Jesus. And in particular, he answers this question with answers that are not only technically correct but points to a deeper, fuller understanding of the issues that lie behind the question. [Reads Matthew 22:34-40]
At this point Jesus’ success in his own teaching and ministry has begun to threaten the position and authority of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Now, they have teamed up in an effort to discredit Jesus and to reestablish their authority. After some failed attempts to entrap him, they asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
So how does Jesus answer this quiz? First, he responds with a well-known passage from Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:5). If you are one of the religious leaders, you would feel good about this answer because it emphasizes the importance of loving God with your whole person. And the Pharisees are known for dedicating themselves to a life of holiness by keeping the Law. They had gotten Jesus to say something that seems to support their authority and reputation in the community.
Having asked their question and having received an answer that seems to make them look good, we may picture them as starting to turn away. But Jesus won’t let them go without hearing the complete answer. “The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” Jesus seems to insist that you can’t really answer the question unless you provide both of these answers. How are we to understand this?
Some interpreters argue that “loving God” and “loving your neighbor” are two ways of saying the same thing. On the other hand, it is often our first impulse to love God in one category of actions and attitudes and love neighbors in a completely separate realm of human affairs. I think it is best to see Jesus’ answers here as describing two distinct but interdependent commandments.
Fundamentally, the most powerful description of the relationship between our love for God and our love for others occurs in the message of the Gospel. Not just in that He loves us, but that His love is demonstrated, perfected, and proved through our love for others. Jesus gives two answers to the Pharisees’ one question because he refuses to separate these two commandments. In this quiz there is no partial credit for answers that are half right. The two greatest commandments cannot be fulfilled apart from each other. You cannot fully “love God” without “loving others”.
Here are some ways I think we can aim to show the love of the Gospel in our everyday lives with each other:
- We can strive to be thankful for each other rather than judgmental toward one another.
- We can be nurturing to each other rather than insensitive.
- We can be forgiving to each other rather than holding grudges.
- We can be gracious to each other rather than assuming the worst.
Perhaps it is this last one that is the most important for us now. Let us be gracious to each other as we all try to grow in our love for God and in our love for our neighbor. Just as God loves us in our sinful and struggling condition, let us extend grace to each other despite our sinful and struggling condition.
When we are faced with the question “What is the greatest commandment?”, like Jesus, we can give an answer that is not only technically correct, but the answer that recognizes the important point behind the question.