“[Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘’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 neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV)
At the beginning of the year, I preached a series of three sermons on “Hey, Aren’t You My Neighbor?” in which I focused on getting to know your neighbors better. We challenged those who were present to make a grid of the eight neighbors who lived closest to them and make an effort to get to know their neighbors better. That sermon series was the first step in preparing us to be better neighbors who are aware of the needs of our neighbors and who respond to those needs. This week, we’re beginning a new 5-week series on “Love Your Neighbor,” where we’ll take the next step in developing more skills for being a better neighbor.
This Sunday, the topic is “Testify to Love.” The scripture for the sermon is from Matthew’s familiar passage where a lawyer, sent by the religious authorities to test Jesus, asked him which of the commandments is the greatest? They wanted Jesus to say the greatest commandment is “to love God” from Deuteronomy 6:5, which would substantiate their perspective that the strictest adherence to the purity laws superseded any other law. They said you could only claim to love God if you remained “pure” or “clean.” Jesus, in the eyes of the religious authorities, seemed to be disregarding the purity laws as he performed his ministry to the poor and marginalized people, who often lacked the means to maintain the purity laws. If Jesus said the greatest commandment is “to love God,” then the authorities would discredit his ministry because he seemed to care more about people than he did God.
Jesus took their baited question and turned it into a gourmet meal. He said the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, which is the answer the authorities wanted; however, Jesus said a second commandment was tied for first place. Leviticus 19:18 instructs us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus declared that all of God’s law and all the teachings offered through the prophets were grounded in these two commandments. In other words, Jesus said these two commandments represent the DNA of faith in God—so wherever people love God and love each other, God is found with them. Jesus’ answer foiled the attempt of the authorities to discredit his ministry.
More importantly, Jesus’ answer gives us a model of how to live a life fully devoted to God. We must love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, but we must also demonstrate a similar commitment to love other people. Over the next several weeks, we’ll explore a multitude of ways we can fulfill the two greatest commandments. I hope to see you Sunday!