The Pharisees – the virtue signallers of the day - were challenging Christ yet again. These were people that took the law so literally that they often forgot the spirit of the law. They were questioning Christ in that “gotcha” style we talked about last week, much like Kay Burley on Sky News interviewing a politician, trying so hard to get a clip of them slipping up.

The Pharisees come from a place of sin – from envy – they’re not trying to learn from Jesus, they’re testing him. God should not be tested.

They ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The question itself show a misunderstanding of the purpose of the commandments.

Not one to cower, Jesus speaks truth to the Pharisees, without falling into their trap. They may have had the numbers, and the authority, but it is here Jesus taught us to speak truth to power! The Pharisees’ pile-on failed.

Jesus’ answer summarises the commandments; to love God, and to love thy neighbour. That is what all of the commandments are about, essentially.  The first three, the declaration of God, the warning against idolatry and blasphemy , and reminder to keep the Sabbath are about loving the Lord our God. The remaining commandments, honouring thy father and mother, thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet, are about loving thy neighbour.

Of course, by loving thy neighbour, we are also loving the Lord our God, because we are all made in the image of God. And likewise, the other way around, if we love God, we naturally love our neighbour, because our love of our neighbour grows out of our love of God. The two great commandments are therefore inextricably linked.

God needs nothing from us, but loves us unconditionally. Our neighbours love us conditionally, but need plenty from us. This would suggest that to truly love and serve our God, we must love and serve our neighbour’s needs.

There was an ancient Jewish saying, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law” which sounds awfully similar, if not a little inverted, from the Golden Rule earlier on in Matthew’s Gospel, and more succinctly put by Luke, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Or as our mothers will have said to us as children, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

It is important to realise that we are talking about loving neighbours, not friends. Neighbour is an inclusive term, and we are expected to love our enemies as we love our friends. To expect the same from them, and to give them the same in return. “Love thy neighbour as thy self”

Notice when Jesus talks about loving God, he tells us to do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. A great task, but if we focus on that one ambition, everything else falls into place.

To love God with all our hearts, our whole heart, is the cause of every other good thing. To love our neighbour is to act righteously. The two are interlinked, if we act in goodness, we will be righteous.

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