What is the Greatest Commandment?


“Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your might.” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]

The Shemah, that means hear!, listen!, was the first commandment that all children of Israel knew and understood. The words of the Shemah were commanded to be taught to one’s children and for them to be on the heart of all Israel. [Deuteronomy 6:6-7]. When Jesus answers the Pharisaical lawyer in Matthew’s gospel account (Matthew 22:34-40), the Shema would be very well known and understood.But in looking closer at both passages in Deuteronomy and in Matthew, Jesus changes one word in the Shema. Deuteronomy says, “..your heart..soul…might.” Whereas Jesus says, “..your heart..soul..mind.”

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’ ”

[Matthew 22:34-40]

Now perhaps the translation between the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of Matthew’s gospel provide the change from might to mind, but in reading the texts for the context of what they are, Jesus seems to be personalizing the Shema to the lawyer’s personality. When one considers a lawyer, or someone academically submersed in the law, the lawyer is thought of as one who has a strong mind. His mind is his might. Or his mind is his strength. It seems as if Jesus is making a personal connection with the lawyer and the Shema.

Jesus then goes further and answers the lawyer’s question by adding a second commandment as the greatest.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” [Leviticus 19:18].

Jesus is reminding the Pharisees, who were setting him up for a trap (Matthew 22:15), that vengeance against a fellow Jew was forbidden by the Law. His point is that the first priority of Israel is to love GOD. God is one. God is to be loved and in so loving God, man is to love man in return. No grudges or vengeance is to be harbored against one who is unfavored.

Jesus is taking a stand in the Matthew account as both one with authority and mastery of the Law and as God himself. By quoting the command of Leviticus 19:18, “…I am the Lord.” Jesus is subtly, yet firmly showing the Pharisees, who insisted on obedience of the Law, that he, Jesus, was the I am, the Lawgiver, whom they were to love, rather than bear a grudge.

“If anyone says, ‘I love, God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” [1 John 4:20-21].

Jesus’ answer to the Lawyer as to the greatest commandment ties the command to love God in the Shema, to practical application toward humanity. One’s brothers, neighbors, mankind, is to be loved as one loves God. Not that humanity is to be loved in place of or over God, but rather as a response to loving God. If God loves humanity, humanity, in loving God, loves each other.


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