The Greatest Commandment – the great challenge

Today’s Gospel, known by many the ‘The Greatest Commandment discussion’ takes place within a larger discussion with the Sadducees, a group of Jews that were in opposition to the Pharisees, who happened to be there as well.  Our Gospel today starts with “One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’” This paraphrase of Mark leaves out the reference to this dynamic.  The actual words are: “One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’” When we look at the same event in Matthew’s Gospel it starts “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together.  And one of them asked him a question to test him.”  Luke references the lawyer testing Jesus.  Jesus has put himself into a religio-political dynamic between the two major religious sects.

I can’t help but notice similarities between the situation in the Gospel and the societal dynamics of today.  Human groups, however good-willed tend to compete with each other, challenge each other’s validity and strive to climb to the top of whatever contest they are engaged in – at the expense of the proverbial ‘other side’.  It doesn’t matter how close they are in ideals – sadly human nature causes prideful conflict to derail truth and goodness; then as well as now.

Christ comes into that situation and tells them all what they already know; love God totally and love your neighbor as yourselves. ‘There is no other commandment greater than these.’ He tells them – and they agree – they know this.  But as the following days show the Sadducees and Pharisees would rather join together to rid themselves of His threat – so that they could then go back to fighting against each other. It seems that the old adage rings true: ‘anyone who is an enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

Truth was inconvenient to them; they had more important things to do – beating the other side.  History will show that the Sadducees eventually fall to the Pharisees, who eventually fall to Roman destruction, who eventually fall to… I think you get the idea.  Human institutions, be it political, social, religious or anything, do not last if they push aside the eternal truth of God. What did and does and will last is the Word, Jesus, and when we take to heart these two great commandments we are assured that we too will not be far from God.  But as the readings today tell us this message is in constant need of proclamation – both to those around us and to ourselves.  Moses proclaimed it 1,400 years before Jesus reaffirmed it and it has been almost 2,000 years since.

This, my friends in Christ, is our calling – proclamation of the Gospel – in season and out – and I know it is a very difficult task. It is challenged every day and every four years, as we see this year, that message gets even more aggressively challenged as Jesus was in in His times; and opposing sides, who slice each other up otherwise, manage to become allies to reduce the Gospel and its messengers (us) to the margins or use us for their purposes.  It’s our calling to not give in to the manipulations of others and to the despair of a seemingly impossible task.  The Gospel is who we are – we can’t separate it from us because we belong to Christ – He is in us as we in Him. We are bound by love of God to make known the real Truth, to use it in our actions, decisions, and conversations; to help make this reality more and more His Kingdom on earth. If not us – who else?

But take heart – this is our consolation: we are strengthened by the God of our Fathers; we are protected by our Lord and Savior.  We are guaranteed by no less than God Himself that if we only witness to the His words, especially these greatest of commandments, in both words and actions he will show us the path of life, the fullness of joy in His presence.

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