Friday, October 27, 2017

Greatest Commandment

And one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him, "What is the greatest commandment?"  --Matthew 22:35

The writer of Matthew has chosen to use this section of his gospel encompassing chapter 22, to provide Jesus-teachings on the hot religious topics circulating in their day.  Matthew utilizes the literary method of test and response to accomplish two basic tasks: to establish Jesus' authority and identity as arbiter of disputes, while also subtly portraying the main opposition groups as chronic quibblers of minutiae who don't grasp the full width and depth of the Jesus agenda.

What is the greatest commandment?  Judaism had accreted rulings, opinions, and laws from the time of the Ten Commandments such that there were over 500 commandments at a Jewish lawyer's disposal.  These could be used either for accusing or defending persons who might have run afoul of the religious powers. Perhaps, only in a lawyer's mind could the question of which was the greatest commandment keep him awake pondering at night.  His obsession with legal details could easily blind him to the simpler more obvious answer.

Jesus shows no hesitation in answering. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  The first part was a central piece of the Shema, one of two prescribed Jewish daily prayers that they were to say frequently as they went about their day.  The love your neighbor half is more rooted in Jesus' own desired life purpose for humanity, which he may have pulled from Leviticus 19:18.

So, let's flip to today.  Let's hear the lawyer's question directed at us moderns.  What would we say is our greatest commandment today?  We are probably faced with even more choices than Jesus.  The law books of our land fill entire libraries, and thousands of courts are operating full-speed to adjudicate these laws daily.  So, pick the most important.  Putting our laws against Jesus' answer, it is difficult to argue for a better one, but how readily do we live out Jesus' answer?  Do we even know how?

Loving God with our whole being is a challenge in a cultural context that injects so many daily distractions and idols: materialism, consumerism, success, fame, fortune, self-fulfillment, family, sports, politics...  The list is endless. 

Perhaps one place that most poignantly provides an evaluative glimpse into our loves is our priority in how we spend our disposable income.  How easily does some new shiny "need" drain away our incomes?  Does that susceptibility to impulse spending reflect love of God?  Ouch.  That is probably not where we want to go, but it is still a legitimate reflection.  Our finances reflect the most glaringly on our life priorities.  So, where does God fit in our financial picture?  How might altering our financial budget to integrate with our love of God/neighbor also alter our whole personal ethos and rule of life? 

Something to think about. 

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