By the time of Jesus the Law had greatly expanded from
the original ten commandments. One writer says that
there were 613 actual Laws as well as 365 prohibitions
(one for every day in the year) and 268 prescriptions
(one for every bone in the body).
Obviously not all these rules and regulations were of equal weight and the rabbis constantly disputed which of them were more important than the others. So we can see where the question of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel comes from. It is not just a matter of curiosity but a point of contention among the lawyers and religious figures of the day, something which was of real importance to them.
Today we might find such a question a bit abstract and not very relevant but you have to understand that the ancient world was a very different place and their concerns were quite other than ours. They lived in a religious world dominated by the Temple and the various factions gathered around it. What to us seem obscure matters of religion were of vital importance to them.
However the purpose of the question in today’s Gospel is not to find the answer but, as we are told, to disconcert Jesus. They want to wrong-foot him; to try to find something which they can use against him.
In this and in the previous few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, extracts of which we have had read to us over the last few weeks, the Pharisees have been trying hard to catch Jesus out. They have put questions to him like the one last week about whether taxes can be paid to Caesar. Their purpose is to look for a chink in his armour so that they can find something to use against him.
On each occasion Jesus outsmarts them. He either gives an answer they do not expect or he responds with a parable which puts them in a bad light. By now they are a bit exasperated and running out of things to ask him so they pose this question about which is the greatest commandment.
Jesus gives the answer that there are two great and interrelated commandments: Love God and love your neighbour. The Pharisees perhaps seeing that they cannot get the better of him simply back off.
It is interesting that, true to form, Jesus does not use the same categories as the Pharisees in their disputations about which is the greatest commandment. They ask which one commandment is the greatest and he gives them not one commandment but two. He does not place the first above the second but says that the second is like the first.
What is interesting is his follow-up statement that on these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets, in other words the whole body of Jewish teaching. From this remarkable statement we see that the Jewish religion is based not on rules and regulations, as the Pharisees would have us believe, but on love.
This is something that they do not expect. Yes, I am certain that the Pharisees love their wives and their children but it is obvious that their religion is not based on love; rather their religion is based on the observance of rules and regulations. In a word their religion is mechanical: according to their way of thinking if you observe this set of rituals or that set of behaviours then you will be righteous in the eyes of God.
What Jesus proposes is something that they have completely overlooked. For all their study of the scriptures the Pharisees have failed to notice the great pillar on which their religion is based, namely love.
They have not understood what the true nature of God really is. They do not realise that the sole motivating force of God is love. They do not understand that what God wants from us is for us to simply love him and our fellow creatures.
The Pharisees did not understand this simple equation. We realise that their failure to appreciate this important point is very reason why Jesus came into our world. He came to make sure that we perfectly understand just what God is like and what we need to do in order to live with him forever.
The message of Jesus, to use the beautiful phrase of St John, is that ‘God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them’.
The task then of anyone who wants to be one with God is to learn to become a good lover in the very broadest sense of that term. What we ought to be striving for is to deepen our care and concern for and our appreciation of all those around us and to be constantly reaching out to God in our prayer as well as in our good works.
What we need therefore is profound passion in our lives, a deep and warm and powerful love for our God and our fellow human beings.
This word passion is very interesting because its roots are in the word suffering. When, for example, we speak of Christ’s Passion we mean his suffering on the Cross but we recognise that the motivation for his suffering is his great love for us and his concern that we should have the way to heaven opened up for us.
There is no room for a cold Christian; there is no space in the Church for a stony-hearted Christian. These concepts are complete contradictions.
What we are long for is passionate, warm and loving Christians; members of the Church who care deeply about the welfare of those around them. We want Christians whose hearts are moved by the sufferings that they see and who want to do whatever they can to help to build a better world.
When we describe someone as passionate we mean that they are excited and ardent about whatever it is that gets them going. In society at large we can see many passionate people in sport, in the arts, in politics and many other areas of life. It is hard for anyone to achieve a measure of success in a particular sphere without being passionate about what they do.
However, what we are talking about here is Christianity. And what we are talking about goes far beyond a particular sport or a political viewpoint. What we are talking about is the most important thing that exists; namely God himself. We are speaking about the greatest kind of love that there is, the love of God and flowing from this the love of our neighbour.
If we can harness a deep passion for the things of heaven in our lives then there is nothing we cannot do; no place we cannot go; no door that can ever be closed to us, least of all the door of heaven.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 26, 2014
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A–October 26, 2014
Today, a Pharisee tries to test Jesus. Even though he was a legal scholar, his question reveals a stunning ignorance. How?
Gospel (Read Mt 22:34-40)
Jesus stirred up animosity against Himself among religious leaders by teaching several pointed parables about the kingdom of Heaven. In our reading today, a Pharisee, “a scholar of the law,” tested Him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is greatest?” What prompted this question? Legal scholars in Jesus’ day spent all their time poring over the Law of Moses and rendering judgment on its meaning. However, for a man whose vocation was God’s Law, this question shows that something had gone terribly wrong.
30th Sunday: The Heart of the Law
In 1927 my grandfather, my father’s father died. My dad was just 10 years old. his older brother was 13. His four sisters were 11, 8, 5, and 2. My grandmother was in her mid 30’s. There was no welfare, no child support, no social security. Then the depression hit. My father and my uncle and aunts not only survived, but as individuals and as family, they prospered. How was this possible? It was possible because their neighbors felt a deep responsibility to help the widow, Minnie Pellegrino, and her children.
Six Practical Steps To Catholic Joy
I recently had coffee with a fellow Catholic who gloomily shared his ongoing struggles with overtly living out his faith in the real world and reluctance to discuss his faith with others. He made it clear that going to Mass on Sunday was all he could or should be doing. Unfortunately, this is a very common tale. The conversation became really interesting and a little uncomfortable when we discussed why people become apathetic about their faith, hesitate about converting or leave the Church altogether.
God leaves many things unresolved. Here are some reasons why
One of the great mysteries of God’s providence is that He often leaves things unresolved or unattended to for a very long time. Often, despite our fervent prayers, He doesn’t rush to fix everything, and He has His reasons for this.
What are the Essential Qualities of Prayer?
In my parish ministry and work around the archdiocese, one of the questions I receive most frequently is like the question posed to Our Lord in Luke’s Gospel, “He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1) People simply want to know, “How should I pray? Can you help me improve my prayer life?”
The Four Ends of Mass
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” – St. Padre Pio
After a talk I gave a while ago, a young man came to me with a question. “I think I’m a good Catholic,” he began, “but I don’t go to mass. I hear it’s a sin not to go, but I don’t understand that. I guess I don’t see the point. Can you give me any reasons why I should go?” His question was sincere, and it led to a long and healthy discussion of why being present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is important in the life of a faithful Catholic.
The Rosary: The Best Prayer for Men
Devotion to Our Lady may not seem an intuitive thing for some Catholic men. Growing up, I’d occasionally catch my father as he finished praying the Rosary early on Saturday mornings (begun in peace when the rest of us were asleep), or notice he’d left his handsome set of beads lying out on a coffee table. I had the blessing of his example. Other men know their fathers have placed a Rosary in their locker at work (try and find a Catholic firefighter who doesn’t have either a Rosary or a saint’s medal) or even just keep one in their pocket, where from time to time they’ll pause and touch the beads. But for those men who haven’t “seen” or “heard,” how do we make sense of the Rosary as a manly devotion?
Why Does the Lord’s Prayer Ask God not to Lead us into Temptation – Why Would God do Such a Thing?
Most of you know that I write the Question and Answer Column for Our Sunday Visitor. And every now and then it is good to bring these works of mine together. An interesting question came in today (actually it is asked quite frequently) and I’d like to give my answer and add just a few things more that wouldn’t fit into the column. First the question, then the answer and a brief elaboration.
Q: Why does the Lord’s Prayer ask God not to lead us in temptation? Why would God do that? I have also read texts in the Bible about God hardening people’s hearts. Again why would God do that?