In one of their last attempts to defeat Jesus in the marketplace, the Pharisees get together to challenge him with a controversial question that will divide his followers and weaken his popularity among the crowds. Everyone has familiarity with the Ten Commandments. Dedicated students of the commandments attempt to rank them in order of importance. Such an exercise is doomed to failure as people can never come to a consensus on this topic. The Pharisees imagine that by asking Jesus this question he will become part of the controversy. No matter which commandment he may choose, scholars will criticize the choice.
Rather than falling into the Pharisees’ trap, Jesus responds in a way that confounds them and creates a new way of understanding what it means to be children of God. Instead of choosing one of the ten, Jesus turns to the crucial prayer of the Jewish faith. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is part of every Jewish family’s daily routine. From scholars to uneducated peasants, everyone listening to Jesus will know that reference and understand the rationale behind Jesus’ response. Then Jesus does something even more remarkable. He expands the commandment to love God by extending that love to include neighbors as well.
Jesus has plenty of scriptural support for his addition of neighbors and the implication is clear: It is impossible to love God without also loving those created in God’s image. Bible scholars today still talk about the two tablets of the law, those commandment having to do with our love for God and those understood as directed toward our love for neighbors. As followers of Jesus, we face a constant challenge to give our time in service to both God and neighbor.
God of all, clear our minds and strengthen our hearts, that everything we say and do may serve and glorify you. Amen.
Deuteronomy 34 narrates Moses’ death and Joshua’s succession, both the end of Moses’ life and the continuation of his influence. Psalm 90 is ascribed to Moses, and the tone suits the setting portrayed in Deuteronomy 34. In First Thessalonians Paul continues his recollection of the relationship between himself and the Thessalonians. Paul and his coworkers acted out their love of neighbor, a love that is possible only because of their prior love of God. The Gospel places Jesus in a setting of controversy with the religious leaders of the day. The exchange about the greatest commandment demonstrates that the religious authorities in fact observe none of the commandments because of their inability to understand properly what Jesus calls the “ rst” and “second” commandments.
• Read Deuteronomy 34:1-12. How is God speaking to you about your life? What endings seem imminent? What new beginning is God forming you for?
• Read Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17. Notice all the references to time. How do you experience time when you perceive God’s work in your life? How do you measure time when God seems absent?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. What relationship is God using to form you spiritually? Who are you tenderly sharing the gospel and yourself with so that God is using you in someone else’s life?
• Read Matthew 22:34-46. The writer states, “It is impossible to love God without also loving those created in God’s image.” What are the implications of this statement on your life? the life of your church?
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