Getting right to the heart of the matter was the standard method of operation by Jesus. Throughout His ministry on earth, He had a unique way of cutting to the core of challenges and contradictory issues that would rise up from His critics and cynics.
The Pharisees saw Him silence the powerful Sadducees when they asked questions in order to trap Him. On one occasion, the Pharisees decided to put forward a lawyer who was attempting to trip Jesus up by asking Him the tough question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt. 22:34-35)
Contrary to what some may think, Jesus wasn’t bringing forth any revolutionary ideas with His response: “He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).
This was not some sort of new love ethic. Jesus was simply reminding them of the foundations of faith. Jesus had immersed Himself in the Torah throughout His life, and all of His teachings were based on its foundations.
The Pharisees were constantly challenging the people to maintain the strict standards of purity based on the law. Jesus took the law a step further to remind them of the greater need—to show compassion and care in all earthly relationships. This was the demand of Old Testament holiness, nothing more, nothing less. It had been simply overlooked and not carried out.
The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the fundamental expression of what life with God should look like for the individual believer. It is to live in such dedication to God that every aspect of our being is encompassed – heart, soul and mind. The expression of that is pounded out in practical holiness – loving others as ourselves.
It sounds simple. Yet it seemed so complex to many then, as it does now.
The message of the cross reminds us of the need for mercy in our dealings with others and within ourselves. Perhaps we can’t love others because we cannot deal with the fact that we don’t love ourselves. Our self image is often based on what we are not, instead of what we truly are in God’s sight: imago dei – created in His image. The psalmist reminds us that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
God in His great love has shown all of humanity that He has not given up on us. The message we still need to understand today is that we should not give up on each other. The Great Commandment is an essential message for us to keep on proclaiming and practicing, not only in this holy Lenten time, but in every waking moment of our existence.
Let us rise to that challenge daily by learning to live simply and to love others, as God has shown His great love to us. The Holy Spirit provides the power to transform us in this way and drives us to make this a reality in our lives. May it be so for you and for me.
By Major Tim Foley