Thus says the Lord: "You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans."
"If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? if he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate."(P) The word of the Lord.
I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. (R)
My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold! Praised be the Lord, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies. (R)
The Lord lives and blessed be my rock! Extolled be God my savior. You who gave great victories to your king and showed kindness to your anointed. (R)
Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you're the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven, who He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.(P) The word of the Lord.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The Gospels tell us that large crowds of people followed Jesus wherever He went. Some people followed him to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases, and for other needs, but some others, such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees followed Him in order to find a way to entrap Jesus. They often asked many difficult questions to get him to incriminate Himself by speaking against the Roman empire or the Jewish people, their religion, customs and laws. When they failed in their attempts to expose Jesus, they joined other groups that opposed Him, even their enemies. Jesus was the common enemy.
Last week, we looked at how the Pharisees and the Herodians set aside their differences and came together, in a joint effort to challenge and destroy Jesus. They asked him to pass judgment on the right of Jews to pay taxes to the Romans. But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, reproved them for their hypocrisy and, advised them that they must render to Caesar the things that belonged to Caesar because his image and inscription were on the coins which they used. At the same time, he declared that they must render to God the things - such as praise, honour, glory, worship, thanksgiving, love and justice - which belonged to God.
Today's gospel narrates yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, Matthew (22:34-40). This time, Matthew writes that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the rivals of the Pharisees but who got together with them. It is good to know what happened between Jesus and the Sadducees. What question did the Sadducees ask Jesus? Then what did Jesus say to silence them?
The Sadducees were an aristocratic, priestly class of Jews, influential in the temple and the Sanhedrin and, unlike the Pharisees, did not believe in angels, demons, the devil, the resurrection, and the afterlife. After the Pharisees' failed attempt to trap Jesus with tax issue, the Sadducees had approached Jesus and brought up a question involving the resurrection and marriage. They cited the story of a woman married to a man who later died without leaving her any children. In accordance with the Mosaic Law her husband's brother would take her as his wife, in order to perpetuate the dead brother's line, Deuteronomy (25:5-10). But he too died shortly thereafter without giving her any children.
This happened, in succession, with seven brothers. The Sadducees' question was, at the resurrection, of the seven brothers whose wife the woman will be, since all of them were married to her, Matthew (22: 24-28). The Sadducees implied that heaven was simply an extension of things on earth which human beings most enjoy, such as marital relationships. But, if the woman had seven husbands, how could her marital relationship be possible?
Here, the Sadducees were just trying to make the resurrection appear ridiculous. Their problem arose because, according to Jesus, they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. This statement was a strong denunciation of religious leaders. Because, of all the people, they certainly should have known the Scriptures and God power. The Scriptures teach that there is resurrection and God's power can bring people back to life, 2 Kings (2:10-11), 1 Samuel (2:6), Isaiah (53:10-12), Ezekiel (37:1-14). Therefore, Jesus pointed out to them that resurrection life or heaven is not simply an extension or continuation of earthly life. With the power of God all relationships are changed and each of us are radically transformed in the resurrection. There is no exclusive relationship in heaven, because everyone will be perfectly and intimately related to everyone else, and to the living God Himself. When they heard this, they were astonished at his teaching and went away.
Now, upon hearing this, the Pharisees gathered together again and hatched a plan based on a malicious desire. This time they sent one of their best lawyers or theologians to test Jesus. He questioned Jesus, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" It is generally assumed that "the law" here refers to the Torah in Hebrew, the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. But the word "Torah" can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish Scriptures known to us as the Old Testament or to Jews as Jewish law and teachings.
According to the Talmud, there are 613 commandments in the Torah, not to mention the hundreds of oral traditions that the Jews were expected to follow. So, certainly, it was difficult to select the undisputed greatest law. But Jesus, with no hesitation, quoted from the two books of the Torah and gave the two greatest commandments - one pertained to God, and the other to human beings.
First, making reference to the Book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind", Deuteronomy (6:5). That is, the people are to love God with their whole being - emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically. Yet, even though the lawyer had not asked for the second greatest commandment, Jesus quoted from the Book of Leviticus (19:18) and said, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." That is, the people are to love their neighbours as truly and sincerely as they loved themselves. In addition to identifying the greatest commandments, Jesus pointed out that these two commandments - to love God and neighbour - covered all the law and teachings of the prophets, from beginning to the end.
What is the message for us?
Israel's supreme duty was to love God and to show that love by keeping the law. But, when they failed to live up to their obligations, Jesus re-iterated what Moses had told the people, by quoting the scriptures. Today, Jesus does not expect any less of us. Now, if I asked you, "Do you love God?" Most of you would automatically say, "Yes, of course I do! If you do, then, how do you express your love for God? You might say, "Well, I display my love for God by attending religious activities, such as Holy Mass, prayers, sacraments, ceremonies, Bible reading, and carrying out charitable works."
But the question is: Is it possible to do all these things without love for God? Yes. It is possible. Many atheists are so well-versed in the Bible but hate God. Some believers diligently observe all rituals but have no fear of God. Some believe in God but not God's law or the Bible. That's why, Jesus says that we must "love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind". In essence, we are to love God with our whole being - with sincerity, feeling, dedication, obedience and trust.
To love someone truly means that we also know the person well and love everything about the person. The same is true with our love for God. So, if we say we love God, then - First, we must know God and love His Word as aptly expressed in Psalm 119 which says, "Oh how I love your law!" Vs.(97). Second, we must worship and praise Him, Luke (4:8). Third, we must put Him above all else. Fourth, we must desire Him and yearn for His righteousness, and His grace. Finally, we must obey His commandments, John (14:15, 15:10).
God Bless You!