Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Matthew 22:34–46

Matthew 22:34–46 (ESV): Jesus talks to the Pharisees again


Having put the Sadducees in their place in the last passage, the Pharisees decide to take another shot at him—but in person, this time, rather than sending messengers. A lawyer among them asks Jesus which is “the great commandment” in the law, and Jesus responds:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (verses 37–40 (ESV))
The Pharisees seem content with this answer, since they don’t respond to it. But while they’re still there, Jesus takes the offensive, and asks them whose son the Christ is. They respond that he is the son of David, to which Jesus replies with a question: If the Christ is David’s son, then how is it that David calls him “Lord” in Psalm 110?

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

(Psalm 110:1 (ESV))

Not only are they not able to answer him, but they don’t dare even ask him any more questions.


The first part of this story can be compared with Luke 10:25–28 (ESV), in which it is told slightly differently. In the Luke passage there are more details given, in that Jesus actually lets the Pharisee answer his own question, and Jesus confirms that he’s got it correct. (Which is then followed by the parable of the good Samaritan.)

In any event, Jesus says—and even the Pharisees seem to agree—that all of the Old Testament laws can be summed up in two rules:
  1. Love God properly
  2. Love your neighbour—i.e. everyone else—properly
And it makes sense. If you were to obey these two rules perfectly, then by necessity you’d also be obeying every single other law or rule that God gave the Israelites. Any violation of any rule or commandment would, at its heart, be a violation of one or both of these overall rules.

On the other hand, from the Christian perspective, these rules also stand to condemn us: Does any of us love God with all of our hearts, and with all of our soul, and with all of our minds? Do we not love other things or people more than we love Him? And even if we mostly do good on this, aren’t there still times when other things take priority over Him? It’s hard to feel self-justified when confronted with two rules such as these.

It’s also important to note the order in which Jesus gives these two “great commandments”: the most important rule to follow is to love God. The second most important rule is to love others. We are sometimes quick to gloss over the first part of this and skip to the second part. And to be sure, there is a lot we can mine from the idea of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, and a lot of good lessons to learn. But we shouldn’t neglect the fact that Jesus puts loving God as the most important commandment. The “greatest” commandment. Loving God properly is more important than anything else we do; it’s what He created us for. To be sure, it’s not an either/or situation; we don’t have to choose between loving Him and loving others. But our priorities should be set firmly on Him.

Jesus’ question to the Pharisees is an interesting one; from their perspective, the verse quoted from Psalm 110 seems like a paradox. It seems clear from the Scriptures that the Christ will be David’s son, and yet for some reason David calls him “Lord.” Why would David be calling one of his descendants “Lord”? It should be the other way around, with the ancestor being considered greater than the descendant. Knowing what we know now, the verse makes sense to us: Although Jesus is David’s descendant, He is also God—so yes, it definitely makes sense for David to call Him “Lord”! I think Jesus’ point to the Pharisees is that even with all of their learning and studying of the Scriptures, there are still some things they don’t understand.

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