A sermon on Matthew 22:35-46
Throughout the scriptures the Jewish leaders, namely the Pharisees and the Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus in his own teaching. Today we have one example of a lawyer who comes to Jesus trying to test him.
One would think a lawyer would know the Law of God, yet by his question we see that he has an ulterior motive. The lawyer asks Jesus, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" and Jesus responds, "You shall love 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." (Matthew 22:36-40. See also Matthew 19:19, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28).
Jesus' answer is based on the writing of the Old Testament, especially as found in the book of Deuteronomy, which is worth citing in full:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your head, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9. See also Leviticus 19:18).
This passage is from Deuteronomy and is called the "Shema" which is the Hebrew word which begins the phrase, "Hear O Israel..." This passage is the heart of the scriptures since those who follow the Lord must obey this simple instruction of love, the love of God and the love of the neighbor. Jesus even goes further and says that all the Law and the Prophets depend or rest on this one command of love. When we stop and think about it this is a very important teaching since we often think of the numerous commandments and teachings of the prophets. Yet, Jesus summarizes all of this in one simple command of love.
I can attest that knowing that I should love someone is much easier than doing it! I often find myself coming into contact with people whom I really don't care to be around, yet, I am again reminded of today's gospel lesson, and the law of love is supreme. It is very difficult to love someone who verbally attacks you or who you know doesn't like you very much. There are so many people that are "rough around the edges" and may rub us the wrong way, yet the Lord has commanded us to love them.
This law of love is intimately connected with the neighbor since anyone whom we come into contact with during our day is the neighbor whether they live next door to you or perhaps work next to you at your office. The neighbor may be the person who works in the grocery store or the policeman who directs traffic on the corner. It may be the bank teller or the librarian at the library.
In other words, everyone is our neighbor. The first epistle of John puts the same thought in the following way, "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (1 John 4:7-12).
May we always learn to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and our neighbor as ourself!
Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.
Latest book by Fr. Mills:
A Light to the Gentiles is a collection of pastoral reflections on the Scripture readings from the gospel of Luke that are read in the Orthodox Church from mid-September until the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The gospel of Luke is also read during the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent as well as at the feast of the Ascension and at the commemoration of various saints. The gospel also contains many familiar parables and teachings: the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and Zachaeus. Luke reminds us that the gospel is to be proclaimed to the entire world in order to bring the gospel to all peoples and nations. Thus, the gospel of Luke serves as a beacon of light that shines brightly in the world. A Light to the Gentiles is an invitation for everyone to read, accept, and obey the Word of God in their lives. This book is a resource for personal and group Bible study, adult education classes, and sermon preparation.
See more books by Fr. Mills