When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they gathered together. One of them, an expert on the Law, attempted to trick Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which commandment of the Law is the greatest?”
Jesus answered: “‘You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ That is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments, the whole Law is based – and the Prophets as well.”Homily for 27 October 2002
Today’s Gospel features the traditional battle lines so frequently found in Matthew’s Gospel stories: on one side, the religious leaders of the day, on the other side, Jesus. Once again, these religious leaders try to undermine Jesus and his mission, this time by asking which is the greatest of the commandments. Now this was a question that had kept the Pharisees busy debating for years. If they could successfully draw him into the debate, then maybe they could deflate him a bit.
The Hebrew religion in which Jesus was raised was filled with numerous commandments -- not just the familiar 10 commandments given through Moses, but hundreds of others too, rules and regulations about how and where to worship God properly, what animals to sacrifice, what to eat and what not to eat, what to wear, when and how often to pray, how to purify oneself from moral and physical dirtiness – the list goes on and on!
So today these religious leaders who themselves are well learned in the law are asking Jesus to demonstrate a wisdom they themselves were incapable of achieving. So they inquire of Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus’ response is immediate and direct! LOVE is the greatest commandment of all. If we have love in our hearts, we have fulfilled the highest obligations of the law, the most enlightened teachings of the prophets! Love God, love your neighbor. Our God is the God of love. If we are without love in our lives, we are without God in our lives. God is always trying to reach us with this message that life is really all about love. Sometimes God whispers this message into our ears; at other times he hits us with a brick! But God wants us to know with certainty that love is the greatest commandment of all.
So what does this mean for us today? Let me illustrate with a story. A young, successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching, though, for any kids darting out between parked cars; and he slowed down when he saw something out of the corner of his eyes. As his Jaguar passed, no child appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door. He slammed the brakes and spun back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. Then he jumped out of his car and grabbed a small boy still standing on the curb and pushed him against a parked car shouting, “What do you think you’re doing, boy?” Feeling his anger rising, the young executive continued, “That’s a new car, and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money! Why did you do it?”
The boy in turn pleaded, “I’m sorry, mister, but I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one else would stop…” By now tears were in the boy’s eyes as he pointed around the parked car. “It’s my big brother, mister,” the boy said. “He rolled off the curb and fell off his wheelchair. He’s hurt and I can’t lift him.” Sobbing, the boy continued, “Mister, will you please help me get him back on his wheelchair? He’s too heavy for me.”
Moved beyond words, the young executive swooped down and carefully lifted the older boy back into his wheelchair; then he took a clean handkerchief and wiped the older boys scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was okay. The younger boy thanked him again and began pushing the wheelchair with his big brother in it down the sidewalk toward their house.
The driver slowly walked back to his damaged car. He never did repair the side door of his Jaguar. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick to get your attention.
God whispers in your soul and mine: “It’s all about love! And love is all about helping people in need.” Sometimes when we don’t have time to listen to that whisper, God throws a brick our way. It’s our choice: Listen to the whisper, or wait for the brick!