For the last two chapters of the gospel according to St Matthew, Jesus is constantly being questioned. He refuses to claim his identity as messiah and leaves people to figure out from their own knowledge and experience who Jesus is.
While I understand the motivation of the repeated testing of Jesus in these chapters, I can’t help but feel sorry for Jesus and the annoyance and frustration he must have felt. Especially when He becomes faced with questions that are posed as tricks to make Him stumble into being discredited.
First, the Pharisees send some lackeys to trip him up over taxes question. He avoids that trap. Next some Sadducees try to trip him up with a tricky question about the resurrection. Again he avoids the trap. Now, in our passage for today the Pharisees come in person with a question about the greatest commandment to test him.
The way the Sadducees and Pharisees act remind me of our many and varied game shows and reality TV programs.
Reality shows, test people all the time. The prize is prestige and money. The penalty is being sent home, one’s dreams destroyed, with lots of people watching.
Let’s see if Jesus can sing well enough to get through the X Factor, or answer questions correctly like the show The Chase. Let’s see if Jesus can dance for us like on “Strictly come Dancing?” Let’s see if he can survive in the wilderness like on “I’m a celebratory Get me out of here.” What chance do you think he’d stand on Bake Off?
I admit, these examples are ridiculous but in so many ways were the questionings, trickery and testing that takes place in this portion of Matthew.
It’s no surprise that Jesus passes with flying colours, even when a lawyer asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment.
On the surface, the question “Which is the greatest commandment?” doesn’t seem like much of a test. But the question about which of the 613 commandments in the Law was the greatest was hotly debated at the time. Some held that they were equally important; others that a graded scale was needed in practical application in daily life.
It’s said that the best teachers are those who show their students where to look for what they need, but won’t tell them what to see.
A good teacher will allow their students to see for themselves and discover what they need to learn.
But we’ve all had those times when what is discovered and learnt needs some tweaking and re-aligning.
I was leading a group of 10 older children through some confirmation preparations, and we had one session on the 10 commandment. We came to ‘honour your father and your mother’ and one of the boys asked ‘is there a commandment telling us how to treat our brothers and sisters’?
Before I had a chance to say anything one of his friends offered an answer, ‘you shall not kill’?
I had a certain amount of sympathy for this idea, if you’ve grown up with siblings you may have felt the same at times.
Jesus, being a good teacher, showed them where to look for their answers, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus has proved himself, yet again, that he knows the law and has authority with it.
So we are also told where to look. And what do we see?
As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.
(And I’m sure he could have given them a good piece of his mind!!!!!!)
We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.
But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.
And here lies the lesson of life – Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.
God doesn’t give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need – people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.
When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life.
And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.