The Most Demanding Commandment

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home Couples talking
By Dr. David M. Thomas for CFM

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 22:34-40

Today we hear one of the shortest gospels of the year. But don’t be fooled by its brevity. Its message is very large. And extremely important.

It seems that Jesus attracted people with questions. Or more precisely, with disputed questions. Maybe they were hoping for an argument. People do that sort of thing, even today. Their question had to do with right and wrong, with commands and laws. 

In the Jewish religion during the lifetime of Jesus, there were hundreds of laws. There were laws about table manners, when one could and could not work, dietary laws and so forth. They might have wondered if Jesus favored a “law and order” approach. Was he strict or lenient? Where did he stand on the many laws that were found in Jewish scriptures?

It seems that it didn’t take Jesus long to respond to their inquiry. He quoted two commands that were found in their holy books. First, we were to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. And the second command was like the first, we were to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That’s it. Just two.

Some might have thought that if there were only two commandments, it would be easy to follow them. But those who understand the full implications of those two commands knew that following those two would be extremely difficult. After all, fully loving God and loving our neighbour (whoever might be our neighbour at a given moment) as much as we love ourselves, well, that was very demanding.

Fast forward to today. Most would agree that really loving another is no easy accomplishment. Especially when “the neighbor” includes whoever is next to us – where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we drive, where we worship, wherever we are. Maybe you have heard it said that it is easy to love everyone, if you exclude individual persons. But that’s the point Jesus is making. You can’t exclude the person next to you, because that person (or group) is your “neighbor.”

Obviously, this has a marriage and family dimension in it because those relationships are often “our closet neighbour.” I wonder if those who questioned Jesus about commands felt satisfied or troubled by his answer. How would you feel?

©David M. Thomas, PhD

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