Have you ever found yourself answering a simple question with a rambling tangent that totally misses the mark? I have done that more times than I can count. The look on the face of the person asking me the question usually lets me know I'm confusing them. While that is never my intention I often feel like I need to provide background and support for my eventual answer. I would have loved to see the faces of the Pharisees when Jesus answered their question in this week's Gospel:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus 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." Matthew 22:34-40
The leaders of Jesus' day continue to ask Him questions that are intended to trap Him. Jesus, always aware of their motivations, answers their questions in a number of ways. In this exchange, Jesus' directly answers the question about the greatest commandment but he doesn't stop there. He answers a second question of His own asking. In doing so Jesus points to love of neighbor as a way to love God. Then Jesus pulls everything together with His final statement. "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." In this statement Jesus puts an end to the discussion.
In essence, the answer to every question is always, love God! Simple, right? Not so fast. Even though the Pharisees, as lovers of the law, would have agreed with Jesus' first answer they would have stumbled on the second. Imagine their faces. "Dang, He did it again!" They might have said. "We do love God, but our neighbors? And wait a minute we were trying to trip you up."
Isn't it interesting and wonderful how everything truly does come back to these two commandments?!? If we honestly look to our intentions we will almost always find that the deeper we look the more likely we are to find our true motivation. Is it our love of God and neighbor or are we seeking our own selfish desires? I can answer that one simply.
Love God first and neighbors second! End of discussion!