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The greatest commandment

Gospel Reading: Mt 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

WHICH COMMANDMENT IN THE LAW IS THE GREATEST?

The answer of Jesus confounds the lawyer – and all like him. The lawyer’s question implies a rule-based understanding of the law. “We have 613 rules here, now which is the most important?” the lawyer is asking. The first part of Jesus’ answer quotes Dt 6:5: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment” (vv 37-38). This verse is well known to all his hearers, since it forms part of the Shema, a key element in Jewish worship. Devout Jews recite this verse several times a day and must know it by heart. Then Jesus quotes Lv 19:18 as a second commandment, which is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (vv 39-40). What Jesus’ answer achieves, however, is to undermine the whole notion of the law as rules and regulations. What Jesus claims is that the whole law is about love, not rules, about loving God and one’s neighbor. In sum, the whole law, every one of those 613 commandments, is really about LOVE – loving God and loving neighbor.

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever!” (Ps 107:1).

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.

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