The Greatest Commandments of All

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The whole Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” This was the question asked of Jesus by the Pharisees, after Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. This was yet another attempt on their part to trap Jesus, to accuse him of heresy. Once again, they knew not who they were dealing with. Jesus answered that question with the truth that is at the center of the Jewish faith. It is the truth at the center of our Christian faith too. “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There it is. That is the center of the target. Both Jewish and Christian scholars have said that this truth encompasses the whole message of the scriptures and that everything else is commentary.

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We Christians, then, are challenged every time we read this passage to renew our commitment to these two commandments. They are inextricably related to one another, after all. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1John 4:20) This, then, is our Christian mission; we must continue in our daily efforts to love God with our whole being. For, if we love God with our whole being, how could we not be in love with all of our brothers/neighbors who are his children. It is easy to love those that love us. God asks us, indeed, shows us the importance of loving those who do not appear to be lovable. Is that not why he asks us to forgive those who injure us 70 X 7 times? Is that not why he asks us to be the Good Samaritan to all those we see in need? Someone once told me that, if I was experiencing difficulties in my prayer life, I should look at what troubles I was having in my relationships with those close to me, or at any issues of prejudice I might have. If I am unable to love others whom I can see, how can I love God whom I have never seen? After all, he loves them with the same intensity that he loves me. This is why the passage from Matthew above ends with this final phrase: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40) Indeed, the whole of salvation depends on them.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.