October 26, 2014
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matthew 22: 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he 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."
Last week’s gospel reading recounted Jesus dealing with the potentially embarrassing questions of the scribes and the Herodians. This week a lawyer, who is one of the Pharisees, takes his turn with a question. Between this Sundays’s gospel text and last week’s text, Matthew recounts the Sadducees approaching Jesus with their attempt to discredit Jesus. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death so they proposed a situation where a woman was taken as a wife, by seven brothers, in order to conceive an heir for the family. The woman and all seven brothers die childless. Their question is, “Whose wife will the woman be in the next life?” (Matthew 22:23-33). All these questions are meant to embarrass and discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people.
While Jesus is being challenged by Jewish leaders of his day, do not be too quick to judge these leaders unfairly in their attacks. Remember that in Matthew gospel it is Jesus himself began the confrontation with the parables he told. In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) the Jewish leaders are represented by the first son who said he would go to work in the vineyard, but did not. In the parable about the landowner and the servant (Matthew 21:33-46), they are presented as the servants who rejected the message, who beat those sent by the landowner to collect his share of the harvest and who kill his son hoping to gain control of the property. In the parable about the king’s feast, (Matthew 22:1-14) they are the invited guests who refuse to attend the wedding banquet.
The question that is put to Jesus in this text is not new. The Law included 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions (one for each day of the year) and 268 prescriptions (one for each bone in the human body). Each was considered binding because they were given by God to Moses. It would be unrealistic to expect a person to remember all of them. Therefore it was common to either condense the commandments into a number of summary statements or to identify the more important commandments. King David has suggested eleven (Ps 15), the great prophet Isaiah proposed six (Isaiah 33:15), the prophet Micah had three (Micah 6:8), and Amos reduced them all to a single one (Amos 5:4). Others dealt with the 613 commandments by classifying some as heavy commandment and others are light. “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, is given you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) was considered a heavy commandment. “If, while walking along, you chance upon a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you shall let her go, although you may take her brood away.” (Deuteronomy 22:6) was considered a light commandment. The way that Matthew presents the lawyer’s question in the gospel makes it clear that in part of effort to discredit him but the question itself in based in a long tradition of making livable one’s relationship with God that is was at least in part based in observance of 613 commandments.
Jesus response of to the lawyer’s questions is not original. The two commandments that Jesus draws on for his response are found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The linking of the two commandments can in at least one earlier Jewish work. Perhaps what is most radical about Jesus’ response is not apparent until one reflects about Jesus ministry and other teachings. It has to do who Jesus understood to be one’s neighbor. In the culture of the day, one’s neighbor was one’ family, extended family, neighbors, and fellow Jews. The command to love was a command to be in relationship that was chartered by loyalty, respect, and care for their welfare. Love described a code of behavior not an emotional attachment. As Jesus ministry unfolds, it clear that Jesus treats many as his neighbor who would have been considered outsiders by the people of the day.
1. Are there people with whom your relationship was based on your lived situation (work, classmates, neighbor, volunteers, etc.)? Do what extent do you operate with a sense of loyalty and regard for their well being?
2. Are there people in your life who try to discredit your reputation or embarrass you?
3. How are the political debates taking place in at this time similar and different than the polemics that Jesus endured and participated in his life? Does the fact that Jesus participated in that type of debate on many levels say anything to you for your life today?
4. How does the fact that Jesus confronted and publicly embarrassed the leaders of the Jewish community by the parables he told, impact how you read this gospel? What does Jesus’ willingness to confront the leaders of his day say to you about your need to respecting those in roles of leadership in your life?
5. Who have been the people in your life who have really tested you? How did you respond to them? How are you a better person for their presence in your life?
6. What stands out for you as you hear Jesus’ summer of the commandments? Where do you feel challenged? Where do you feel encouraged?
7. Do you ever feel like all the commandments, rules and expectation of the gospel, or the church are too heavy and complex and long for someone to make it simpler, understandable or even doable?
8. When you think of how love of God and love of neighbor are actually lived in your daily life how are they similar and how are they different?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF. and Joe Thiel.
To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
Please include this information when printing or forwarding.