The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 25, 2020
Lectionary Readings: Exod 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-3a, 3b-4, 47, 51; 1 Thess 1:5c-10; Matt 22:34-40
Theme: The Greatest Commandments
In today’s Gospel, Matthew tells us that when asked by a Pharisee (lawyer) on what is the greatest commandment, Jesus gives not just one but two greatest commandments. These are to love God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. This combined love-commandment answer of Jesus is not entirely new as it includes key commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures (Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18).
Matthew does not tell us the reaction of the Pharisee. Did he feel he was able “to trap” Jesus? It is easy to think that the lawyer Pharisee questioning Jesus was also hostile like the other Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees who had earlier questioned Jesus. But maybe his question was an honest one? He could be genuinely curious to hear Jesus’ answer as there were hundreds of Jewish laws to observe. Later rabbis counted 613 commandments in the Torah with 248 positive (“you shall”) and 365 negative (“you shall not”). How could anyone keep track of these and rank them?
The so-called “love-commandment” is often used to distinguish Jews and Christians as in ‘Jews have the Law and Christians have love’. But from what I have learned about Jewish worship and practice, this is not a correct distinction. The daily recitation of the Sh’ma or Shema (Deut 6:49) is at the core of Jewish worship and is a most fundamental precept of monotheism not only for Jews but also for Muslims and Christians.
Also, gemilut hasadim, literally meaning “the giving of loving-kindness” is a mitzvah (a command) in the everyday life of Jews. Among the acts of gemilut hasadim are the ones enumerated in Mt. 25:37-46: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick, bury the dead, comfort mourners etc. These are for Christians the corporal acts of mercy.
In the debate on what is the greatest commandment, Luke and Mark, ranked loving God (Deut 6:5) as the greatest commandment. Rabbis distinguish between “heavy” and “light” commandments. But Matthew puts the neighbor-commandment on the same level as the God-commandment (Mt. 22:39a) saying that “on these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” These give us the foundation and absolute necessity for appreciating and observing the other commandments.
This brings to mind a familiar image: the cross, with its vertical line representing our looking up to the Creator God we worship and its horizontal line representing our two hands trying to reach out to others especially to those in need.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you agree with Matthew that there are two not just one greatest commandment? 2. In this time of the pandemic, what have you done to show you love your neighbor as yourself? What else can you do?
Bibliography: Harrington, Daniel ed. Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew (Minnesota, 2009), www.myjewishlearning.com/article/gemilut-hasadim-101
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna: 2014