Matthew presents this passage as an attack on the Pharisees who have a lawyer, a professionally trained theologian steeped in the Law of Moses, to test Jesus. However, Jesus does not fall into the trap they set. He quotes from the ancient Hebrew prayer (Deut 6:4-5) to indicate that one must love God with one's whole being. But Matthew then balances this theocentric outlook of the first commandment with a second one that is like the first in that love of God must also include love of neighbor (Lev 19:18).
Although both love of God and love of neighbor are emphasized in other writings of Judaism of that time, this is most striking presentation of the fundamental link between the two. With this response, Jesus silences those who questioned his authority then and Matthew challenges all who are listeners to his gospel.
Fr. Greeley's Last Book:
Once upon a time there was a parish priest who began the year with a parish retreat, the theme of which was the “essence of Christianity.” The parish was very contentious. All different kinds of “movement’s existed in the parish, each with its own agenda. So people came to the first lecture (in the school hall) read for a fight. The priest said that the core of the faith was God’s love, unremitting, implacably forgiving love, a love which we could not earn but which God wanted us to reflect to others. In the question period all purgatory broke loose.
Why had he not mentioned opposition to abortion, respect for every word of the Pope, the importance of the charismatic renewal, concern for the poor and the oppressed, the moral depravity of young people, natural family planning, the evils of American materialism the ordination of women, the evils of feminism..
God’s love was not really relevant. Neither was forgiveness. These were old fashioned issues. Why wouldn’t the priest get down to some practical and controversial matters. He went back sadly to the rectory and thought about canceling the retreat. The next week there were only twenty five people present, either elderly or teens.
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
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