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Matthew 22:34-40

Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.


“Love, the Greatest Commandment”

I want to start with a funny story.  There are three sons. They left home at young ages and became rich. One day they met together and talked about their gifts for their mother’s, who became old. One son said, “I will buy a big house for her.” The second son said, “I will buy a fancy car for her.”  The third son said, “She likes to read the Bible, but she can barely read. I will get a specially trained parrot so that it may quote the entire Bible for her.” And then, a few weeks later, they got a letter from their mother. She said, “the house is too big for me; the car looks great, but I cannot drive. The gift my dear youngest son gave me is small and simple, but that is my favorite. The chicken was so delicious.”

Do you know how many books are in the Bible? Perhaps the confirmation kids know. The Old Testament has 39 books, and the New Testament has 27 books. So the total is 66 books. If we sum up the 66 books of the Bible, it must be like today’s passage. Today’s passage looks to be very simple, but it is very significant.

Religious leaders and social leaders did not like Jesus, and they tested him in the public, which means that they tried to embarrass him in front of the people. We can find two Jewish sects (denominations) in today’s scripture: Pharisees and Sadducees.  The Sadducees already failed their plan. Verse 34 says, “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.” The Pharisees heard about their failure, and they gather together to test Jesus. The Pharisee is a Jewish denomination, which focused on studying the Law. Mostly they were experts and teachers for the Law. Verse 35 says, “One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” The other version (NIV) of the scripture translates, “an expert in the Law to test him.” So, they brought the expert of the experts in the Law to test Jesus. The expert called Jesus “teacher,” saying, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Their question implies that you shouldn’t be a teacher. They knew that Jesus did not receive an education, and he was a poor carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee.

God gave people the Ten Commandments through Moses. Jewish leaders studied the Ten Commandments and made 613 commandments under the Ten Commandments.  People could not understand the commandments and became difficult to keep all the Laws. The leaders judged people who could not keep the Law. Today, the teachers and the expert of the experts in the Law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus gave them a straightforward and clear answer, using the Ten Commandments, which God gave them. From the first to the fourth commandment are about the Love of God, and the fifth to the ten are about the Love of neighbors.

Jesus said to him, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the 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.” The leaders made more commandments and more laws to know the greatest commandments in God’s Law. Jesus took all bubbles out and gave them a pure and authentic God’s Law, a new covenant. That is “love.” So, if we sum up all 66 books of the Bible with a word, it is “love.”

All commandments and all prophets’ words are based on these two commandments- Love of God and Love of neighbors. These two commandments fulfill all of the Laws. The two commandments hang on together: if you love God, you should love your neighbors. The First Letter of John makes it more clear for us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandments we have from him [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21). It sounded like breaking all the Laws.  But Jesus says, “do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). It means that the Law without Love is nothing. Furthermore, Law without Love perhaps might be a sword, which could hurt, oppress, and exploit people, especially the powerless. God gave us the Law for loving neighbors, especially for protecting the weak, the least, and the powerless, but the leaders used the Law to oppress and exploit people, especially the powerless.

We may find the best description of Love in the First Letter of Corinthians. Love is a gift of gifts. Even though we have the faith to move the mountains but have not love, we are nothing. If we give away all our passions to the poor but do not have Love, we gain nothing. “Love is patient; Love is kind; Love is not rude, not arrogant, and not resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth.” To love is to open our life intimately to that of another. If you love someone, you want to know about him or her-what s/he likes or doesn’t like, and you want to have a good relationship with him or her. Furthermore, you may want to change your behavior if s/he doesn’t like it.

Think about your spouse. Does your spouse do what you like or what you do not like? I do not want you to judge them, depending on what they do. I want to say that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (1Corinthians 13:7). So, instead of judging them, I want to say, even though they do not do what you like, you may love them more with patience, hope, and forgiveness, giving them a second chance.

The risen Jesus Christ went to Galilee to meet his disciples as he promised them. Even though his disciples left him alone when he died on the cross, Jesus’ Love for them was endless. Jesus asked Peter, who denied him three times, “Do you love me?” The disciple Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” instead of judging or scolding him. Love is all of all.  Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 20:17). Jesus loved Peter with endless and steadfast Love, and Peter opened his mind and heart to Jesus. Finally, Jesus gave Peter a second chance to be his disciple. The disciple Peter became a more outstanding disciple than before. If your spouse does not do what you like, give him/her a second chance. She or he may love you more than before.

To love God is to open our lives to God. To open our mind and heart in truth to God is to build a good relationship with God. If you have a good relationship with God, God may help you in every way, as your friends in a good relationship help you when you get difficulties. Imagine when you were a child. If you liked your teachers, you might like to study, and you might be more sincere about assignments or homework. As such, if you love God, you may want to do what God wants you to do.

Let us go back to the funny story, what I told you at the beginning. The funny story led me to think about what the mother needs indeed. How might the three sons take care of the mother? Let us think about our neighbors, especially during this time of the COVID 19 pandemic.  Who are our neighbors? I hope that where God’s eyes stay is where our eyes remain, and where God’s mind is, is where our minds are. Love is the best remedy for all. Let us love God and love our neighbors. Thanks be to God. Amen.