Jesus came not to abolish the Old Testament law but to fulfil it
And in today’s Gospel, He reveals that love—of God and of neighbour—is the fulfillment of the whole of the law
An authority on the Law of Moses gives Jesus a pop quiz: name the greatest commandment. Specifically, Jesus is to consider the 613 commandments found in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, and to select the cornerstone. But we know this is not a casual conversation among colleagues. Matthew reminds us that Jesus silenced the Sadducees, the priests who served at the Temple in Jerusalem. They asked their thorniest question about the Torah, and Jesus aced that test. Now it is the Pharisees’ turn.
The Pharisees were a sect within Judaism, which worked as a social movement seeking to change society with a greater faithfulness to following the Torah. The Pharisees in Jerusalem see Jesus’ growing influence on the crowds, and they seem to want to shut down this movement before it goes any further. The question then comes from a place not of wanting to learn but desiring to trip up the rabbi from Galilee. Jesus immediately answers with what is the most succinct statement of everything he taught and his every action: “‘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. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
We are not just to love God, but our neighbour, and not just God and our neighbour, but we are to love ourselves, as only then can we love our neighbours as ourselves. Everything hangs on love.
The love Jesus is talking about here cost him his life, so this is love beyond mere sentimentality or emotion. Jesus teaches about the form of love that in Greek is called agape.
The love we are to have for God is a matter of heart, mind, and soul. While we think of “heart” normally in terms of affection, in the scriptures the heart is the centre of will, character, and conscience. Loving God is about deciding to put God first in our lives and to make our will conform to his will. From this experience, I reach out in love to others with the love that begins in the very life and nature of God.
So, Agape love is a decision, an act of the will. To decide to see others as God sees them. To act on this decision rather than just whether you feel the emotions of love. The love you have for others must start with God. We have to ask God to give us this gift. To pray for God to reveal the way God sees these other people in your life, especially the difficult people you deal with.
When trying to decide what to do, put agape into the equation. Should you forgive? Should you pick up the phone and make a call? Should you write a letter? Should you make a visit? The decision to forgive, or call, or write, or visit, or whatever it is that will make this love concrete should not depend alone on whether you have been hurt or could be hurt. The answer should depend on answering the question, “What would love do?”
This is how the ideal of loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself is made real. This love is a choice, a decision, an act of the will, and it belongs in the heart of your relationship with your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your co-workers. Have the courage to not simply talk of love, but to put love into action. The love God has for you is patient and kind and will never fail. Choose to share that same amazing love with the people in your life.
We love in thanksgiving for our salvation. And in this become imitators of Jesus, as Paul tells us in today’s Epistle—laying down our lives daily in ways large and small, seen and unseen,