Rev. Timothy Schehr
If the Bible included a soundtrack, we would no doubt hear a big round applause at the end of this Sunday’s gospel reading. A group of Pharisees opposed to Jesus put their heads together to come up with their best shot against Jesus. The Sadducees had tried to do the same but they failed. Now it is their turn. Some Pharisees decide to send one of their best—a lawyer skilled in all the finer points of the law. In this case the challenge is to come up with the one law among the hundreds in the Torah that could be regarded as the greatest of them all.
They probably count on Jesus having only a limited knowledge of the law. So whatever answer he gives, the lawyer will be in position to expose his less-than-adequate knowledge. This will undermine the Lord’s credibility with the crowds. So let the contest begin.
The lawyer first sets Jesus up by addressing him as Teacher. This is no doubt aimed at giving him a false sense of confidence. We can only guess the look on the lawyer’s face when Jesus, without a moment’s hesitation, gives a perfect response. Jesus quotes the command of his heavenly Father in Deuteronomy 6, where the community is given the challenge to love God with every part of their being. Not much room for exceptions here!
The Lord’s lesson is that God’s people should strive to be the very best. Anything less will take away from their service to God as models of what it means to be God’s people. What did the scholar of the law do when he heard the Lord’s answer? Did he turn to the rest of his group looking for clues as to what to do next?
But then Jesus goes over the top by also providing the lawyer with the second greatest commandment. It comes from Leviticus 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If the lawyer is listening both he and his fellow schemers have some thinking to do. Are they loving Jesus as their neighbor? Are they living out the demands of the second greatest commandment? Could plotting against their neighbor in any way be construed as abiding by this command from God?
The first reading, always echoing some detail in the Sunday gospel, makes a connection with this second greatest commandment. We see Moses standing before the Israelites at Mt. Sinai and telling them how their covenant bond with God should impact their lives. They have experienced first hand God’s grace and mercy. In spite of all their faults God brought them out of Egypt, gave them food and water in the desert, and even gave them the privilege of being God’s special people.
What can they do for God in return for all of this? One thing they can do is make sure their thoughts and actions reflect back to others what God has already done for them. Honor and respect for others is no longer measured by earthly standards but by the standards of heaven. God is listening to others in need just as God listened to the people of Israel when they were in need.
In the second reading Paul can hardly contain his joy over the way the members of the church in Thessalonica have responded to the gospel. He can actually say that they are models for all believers. Paul makes no explicit reference to Matthew 22 here, but he would surely agree that the faithful members of the church in Thessalonica were doing all they could to live by the two greatest commandments in the law.
© Rev. Timothy Schehr