“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Matthew 22:36
“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:39
There are many, many blessings and benefits to being married to a teacher (yes, there also times of grammatical and other corrections with eye rolls as well). One of which being a gaining of understanding of nuances of things like language that can lead to deeper, richer understanding. Take the word “as” for instance. It is a conjunction. For those who might remember an American, cartoon called “School House Rock” and the song “Conjunction Junction What’s Your Function?” (If you have a moment to Youtube it, it is a fun watch…anyway I digress), a conjunction exists to connect or combine two things together.
Jesus, is being tested; not in the sense of a an academic test or the sense of an achievement test, no this test is much more significant, the stakes of the grade are much more dire. The Jewish Authorities are testing him. They are sending different representatives to ask Him questions. These are questions designed to trip Him up. He has claimed to be the Messiah, God’s True and Only Son. Yet Jesus has no formal training; He is a carpenter’s son. In the minds of the Jewish Leadership, Jesus has been able to trick the uninformed, unintelligent masses, but He has not fooled the leadership. And they are going to trap Jesus in His own words and show to the people the fraud that Jesus is. There is only one problem with their plan. Jesus keeps answering every question posed to Him with such great wisdom and then in turn asks the Jewish leaders questions they can not answer; that they are quickly being shown to be the ignorant fools that they in fact truly are. So almost in exasperation; they turn to a final question with which they hope to trap Jesus; to have an answer which will lead to His downfall and doom. But again, Jesus answers with such wisdom, such truth, such power, that the Jewish Leadership is forced to remain quiet and indeed, will never try to confront him openly in argument again.
The question? Which is the great commandment? Unwittingly, in their minds, and by the Grace of God the Father Almighty, they had opened the door to some of the most powerful teaching, the most clarifying concepts of Jesus entire ministry: What does God think is the most important. Jesus doesn’t just answer them. In the Gospel of Mark, before answering he shouts out: “Hear O Israel!” for Jesus isn’t just answering for the gathered leadership, He is answering for all of us; for all time. The first of His answers is about our relationship to God. It is to be one of love with all that we have; heart, mind, body and soul. But it is the second one and knowing that Jesus always chose His words with carefulness and clarity that he uses the conjunction as. After our relationship with God, what is the next most important thing in our lives; is it the temple?, the priests?, our sacrifices?, the amount of money we give?; No, it is none of that. It is our fellow human beings. It is that which God, Himself, made in His own image and breathed His own breath into; His creation that He saw was very good. It is those; whom we are to love AS we love ourselves. Jesus goes on to say; everything else; all additional laws, commandments and teachings that have ever come are built on these two fundamental commandments.
So what’s the point for us that I think is so vital today? AS. For you see as, in the conjunctive form is a state of being. It is a state of combination, of existence together; that is neighbor and you and I. Please, Sisters and Brothers, take particular note of where and how the as is placed; neighbor as yourself. Note this is not an eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth type of commandment. This is not love your neighbor as they love you in return. There is no freedom here to not love our neighbor if we don’t feel that their is love returned in kind to us. No, the only way we can not love our neighbor is to not love ourselves in the first place. And also please note this; if we find that we have no love for ourselves, then the first commandment of loving God will be next to impossible, for we are hating the very thing which He, in His wisdom, created. And that is of course why Jesus Christ placed the two commandments in that very order. For there can be no actual love of any kind lest it first come in a relationship from Above. Then and only then, can the first Love, between God the Father Almighty and you and I, then be shared with all who are around us. And finally note this, it is completely irrelevant, whether the love is returned from our neighbor or not. Loving ourselves, we are commanded to love others.
In summation; of course God knows what He is doing and Jesus Christ knows exactly what He is saying. We should not look at these commandments as harsh in nature or drudgingly laborious in carrying out. For love is the greatest of all things. Love opens up all things. Love conquers all things. Loving is the essence to life. Love is the way to be. Striving for anything else is striving for less. Simple? yes. Easy? hardly. In fact it is so hard that none of us will ever perfectly achieve it in this life time. But that does not excuse us from trying. And as we attempt and when we fail, we reach to up to Him in prayer who came down; who knows our weaknesses and in His Perfect Love and Mercy, died for our sins and failures; Jesus Christ. And in Love, Perfect Love, Jesus Christ will lift us up, continue to Love Us and show us the way to love all others as ourselves.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise and thank You that You have seen fit to teach us, to tell us what You desire from us most. We also humbly admit that what You want most from us; love, first to you and then to our neighbors, we often fail to give. Forgive us Merciful Father and Pour Out the Holy Spirit upon us that He may teach us each day how to better love you as well as our neighbors. That in that love, we will live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen