The Pharisees gang up on Jesus after news has reached them that He had just silenced the Sadducees, a major sect of Palestinian Judaism (Matthew 22:34-40).
The Pharisees, known for their excessive scrupulosity in observing the smallest details of the Law, gave Jesus their best shot by sending somebody who has mastered the Mosaic Law to test Him.
Unlike last week’s burning question (Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar?), the question at hand was not meant to put Jesus in a dangerous situation, it only meant to test His aptitude of the Law. The fact that the one who issued the question is a scholar of the Law, the inquirer then must have already the answer.
The question goes “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus answered “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” His answer did not just come from thin air. He knew His Scriptures quite well that His reply was illuminated by it (Deut 6:5).His answer echoes the first part of the ‘Shema’ (Hebrew word which means ‘Listen’), the monotheistic creed of Israel which is recited as part of their daily prayers.
This prayers constitutes the greatest commandment of the Torah because it details the chief obligation of every Jew: Love the Lord with one’s heart, soul, and mind.
And what does it mean to love the Lord with one’s heart, soul, and mind?
The love one accords to the Lord is not the type which is mere sentimental that springs from the heart, but a steadfast commitment which comes from the entire being of someone to keep the Lord’s covenant.
Indeed, Jesus has His values in the right place. He knows His priorities quite well.
The Pharisee who issued the question must have been quite pleased. Jesus’ answer surpassed his expectation.
But Jesus was not yet through.
He gives another one, which is interconnected with the first. Like the first, His answer is anchored from the Scriptures (Lev 19:18). The second greatest commandment calls us to love our neighbor with the same consideration with which we busy ourselves caring for our own needs. We cannot claim we love God if we have been bent on hating our neighbors.
The second issues from the first. Jesus can never be more explicit: To love our neighbors is a necessary consequence of our love for God.