6 December 2011

Matthew 22:34-46

"'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 first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (vv. 37-40)


The Pharisees were a religious group, including expert scholars ('lawyer' here means a specialist in the laws within the books of Moses - the first five books of the Old Testament). They shared in an uneasy coalition with the Sadducees in overseeing the practice of Jewish faith. In the previous passage Jesus silenced the Sadducees with his answer to the trick question about resurrection that they had asked him.

It was a principle of the Pharisees that all the laws of Moses (over 600 of them) were of equal importance, so the question tests whether Jesus will promote some laws at the expense of others. Jesus responds by choosing two commandments, not because they are more important than the others but because all the others, along with all the teaching of the prophets, are dependent on them.

The two commandments are found in Deuteronomy 6:5, which is part of a passage religious Jews recited twice a day, and inLeviticus 19:18. In the first of these, "heart", "soul" and "mind" are not separate parts of a person but different ways of speaking of a complete person, so the whole law emphasises the totality of love that should be shown to God. With regard to the second of the chosen commandments, for a Jew "neighbour" meant fellow-Israelite or resident foreigner; in Luke 10:25-37 Jesus gives it a much wider interpretation with reference to this law.

After deflecting trick questions from both Sadducees and Pharisees Jesus then puts a question to them regarding the pedigree of the Messiah, the expected God-anointed Saviour. They answer that he is the "son of David" (v. 42). Jesus, who had recently been so hailed himself (Matthew 21:9) does not want to deny this, but to show that it does not go far enough.

In verse 43 Jesus therefore reminds them of Psalm 110 which they believe David to have written, but in which the writer calls the Messianic king "my Lord" (Psalm 110:1). How can a man use such a title of his son, he asks. Not only can they not answer him, but Matthew says they gave up asking him questions altogether! Jesus clearly believes that the Messiah, and therefore he himself, is much more than simply David's Son.

To Ponder

What title for Jesus works best for you? If "Son of David" is inadequate, as well as rather meaningless to those who are not Jewish, what works better and is likely to be understood by those of your friends who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus?

Do you have a 'most important principle' or some other kind of motto or primary rule by which you seek to live? What is it? And how well to you live up to it?

Who are the neighbours you find it hardest to love as you love yourself?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.