The Double Commandment

Posted by Thaddaeus

Matthew 22: 34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Background:  At the time of Jesus, there are particular sects, or political parties, that have certain authority for religious and political matters.  In recent weeks, we have witnessed how Jesus discredits some of the ideas and conceptions of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians.  There are also groups within political parties such as the scribes, the chief priests and the elders.  In today’s reading we encounter a scholar of the law; meaning a scribe.  In ancient Israel scribes transcribe the law, interpret it and write commentaries.  Jesus often accuses the scribes of enumerating the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit behind it.  Jesus just silences the Sadducees concerning their notion that there is no resurrection of the dead when a scribe, one of the Pharisees, tests Jesus by asking which commandment is the greatest.  He replies that the love of God must engage a person’s heart, mind and spirit.


The Double Commandment:  Catholics think of the commandments in terms of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue: the words God writes in stone and gives to Moses. Judaism recognizes the Decalogue as sayings (like a table of contents) for 613 commandments called mitzvahs.  Each mitzvah is classified within one of the ten sayings.  The first five sayings describe the relationship between man and God.  The second five describe the conduct of humans towards one another.  Each of the 613 commandment is taught to be of equal importance.  This emphasizes the extent the scribe goes to entrap Jesus in speech.  The Decalogue begins with the words, “I am,” and ends with the words, “your neighbor.”  Joining these together creates the saying, “I am your neighbor.”  The combination of the two may have already been made in Judaism, but it is the source from which the whole law and the prophets is derived.