RCL Year A, Proper 25
Psalm 1, Leviticus 19:1-2 and 15-18, Saint Matthew 22:34-46

Last Sunday we saw Jesus confound the Pharisees with the well-known command “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”[1] And today we see Jesus confounding the Pharisees again with his question about the Messiah, “[w]hose Son his he?”[2] The Pharisees are not able, once again, to keep up with Jesus. They are not able to unscramble Psalm 110, verse 1, which Jesus quotes, and to prove from it that the Messiah is David’s son.

But more confounding to the Pharisees is Jesus answer to their question “which commandment in the law is the greatest?”[3] The answer Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 6, verses 4 and 5, and the answer confounds the Pharisees.

That portion of Deuteronomy religious Jews recited twice a day, morning and evening in the prayers, and yet they had not fully taken it in. The greatest commandment is to love; to love God and to love your neighbor. The Pharisees had accepted something less than that as the greatest commandment. They had accepted keeping the sabbath, washing hands, and pots and pans, avoiding bodies, and in keeping these smaller commandments they had missed the big thing, the very thing that Jesus came to correct.

The greatest commandment is to love; to love God and to love your neighbor. The greatest commandment is to be in a loving relationship with God and your neighbor. The greatest commandment is obeyed by the kind of loving relationship it takes to cure, to teach, and to restore, whether on the sabbath or not. The use of the Pharisees’ oft-recited prayer about loving God with all of one’s heart, with all of one’s soul, and with all of one’s mind, undoes the Pharisees. They had tried to construct their obedience on something else. They had tried to love God by engaging God with less than their total person. They wanted to have their cake and to eat it too.

Jesus confounds the Pharisees by replying to their question the words they use most often. He makes them understand that the greatest commandment repeated to them once more means that when it comes to loving God and loving neighbor that they and all people are either all in or they are not in at all.

[1] Saint Matthew 22:21.

[2] Saint Matthew 22:42.