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The Great Commandment

Matthew 22:34-46

Proper 25a
October 23rd, 2005

Matthew 22:34-40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,

44   ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet?’”

45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.

Matthew 22:34

[Mt 22:34] But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. (NAS)

Silenced the Sadducees

In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus confronts three very different religious groups; The Herodians, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. We had a brief overview of the Herodians in the last study so let’s stop in on the Sadducees. They were a group of priests, merchants and aristocrats who came from among the leading families in the nation of Israel [Acts 5:17]. They held more religious authority than the Pharisees and the Herodians and Jesus’ death largely had to be approved by this group.

The Sadducees believed in strict adherence to Mosaic Law (the first five books of the bible or the Pentateuch). They prided themselves on their knowledge of the law, their ability to humiliate others through their knowledge and their method of Socratic questioning. These were the methods they attempted to use to undermine Jesus.

They would start with a point of disagreement (almost always using resurrection) and carry it through to a ridiculous ending. This question was their favorite and one that had stymied their rivals—the Pharisees—for ages. It dealt with a woman who married a man and when he died before her (not an uncommon problem in Christ’s time) she was then given to subsequent brothers in marriage according to Mosaic Law. The Sadducees would then carry this point through to a ludicrous conclusion, “What if she had seven brothers?” Then they would pop their concluding question, “So, whose wife would she be in heaven?”

For them, this question proved that resurrection was impossible because it conflicted with Mosaic Law. They were like a poor party comic who had only one joke, telling it over and over again to every guest at the party. Even worse—this had been their favorite party joke for generations! They traced their religious order all the way back to Zadok, a high priest of David and Solomon.

However, on this day something went wrong for the Sadducees. It was almost like the cartoons where the coyote chases the road runner onto the edge of the limb. He then saws off the branch but, instead of the branch falling, the tree falls. The Sadducees thought they had “the question” that would stymie Jesus thereby proving He was not omnipotent.

In one sentence (albeit a long one) Jesus uses the scripture that the Sadducees are most familiar with to undermine their own pride:

Matt 22:29-33

29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. 30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.’”

Jesus quotes from Exodus:

Exodus 3:6

[Exod 3:6] He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (NAS)

The term for, “I am The God” [‘Elohiym] had no past or future tense. It is present tense as when God stated, “I am that I am.” (HAYAH ‘AHER HAYAH) [Exodus 3:14]. God is Who God needs to be, whenever God needs to be, wherever God needs to be. He is God of our past, our present and our future. HE IS!

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived long before Moses, yet God “IS” the Father of them all. God does not say; “I WAS” their Father. He says; “’I AM’ their Father.”

If God IS the Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses—then they must be living! Not only does Jesus lay forth literal scriptural truth to undermine the pride of the Sadducees, but his proof is from Mosaic Law, in fact, his proof was a declaration made by God directly to Moses!

Is God my living father? Is he alive in my life today? Not yesterday, not a historic God—but a God who is able to be present in any and all circumstances?

Can you imagine the whole basis of your faith undermined in one statement? That is what happened that day.

Matthew tells us that the Sadducees were silenced. The word actually used is, “muzzled [phimoo].” They became like toothless dogs. Their fangs for attacking and wounding others were extracted in one statement by Jesus Christ.
Don’t feel too sorry for them though. They didn’t argue with Jesus to seek truth, they argued with Jesus (and others) to merely appear smart. Theirs was not a faith based upon truth but a bias based upon pride. In one statement, Jesus freed them from their bias. A person who really hungered for truth would seize this opportunity to leave his ways behind and redirect his life. He would desire to know more. However, these men were not seeking, they were seething. Their pride had been publicly piqued and now, all they wanted was to get rid of the man who revealed their foolishness.

This chapter leads us to ask two important questions:

  1. Is my faith wrapped up in a doctrine, a ritual or a relationship with a living God? Doctrines and rituals can compliment our relationship with God—but never supercede it.
  2. How do I respond when the truth is revealed to me?

Jesus revealed their sin and they hated him for it. Do I attack the revealer? Do I detest the revelation? Or, do I drop to my knees and ask God’s forgiveness? My eternity rests upon these questions.

The Pharisees heard…

The Pharisees were much more popular than the Sadducees or Herodians and, while they were not necessarily well-liked, they were admired by many for their unwillingness to compromise with their Roman task-masters.

Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead but they were most concerned about tithing and ritual purity. Because they felt that others were not as “ritually pure” as they were, they took to separating themselves from both Jews and Gentiles in order to maintain their cleanliness. This distance (indeed, the name “Pharisee” means Separated One) led to their aloofness among people.

The truth was that very few people could afford to live the life of ritual purity that the Pharisees enjoyed. This interpretation of scripture led to an upper class that was reserved for those who were completely out of touch with the masses of working poor that surrounded them. The majority of people who could not afford to debate with the elite rabbi’s of the day or who did not possess the “right heritage” to be a religious leader. Common laborers simply did not have the time or ability to take hours out of their day to maintain the rituals and study of the Pharisaical class. This “purity by works” was by nature only accessible to the few. If more Jews attempted to obtain it, the economy would have collapsed (but not before the hammer of Rome would have swung down violently upon Israel).

The Pharisees were constantly condemning others (including Jesus) for not keeping the laws [Mark 2:16; Luke 7:39; 15:2; 18:11]. Having seen their own disciples, the Chief Priests, the Herodians and the Sadducees fail at cornering Jesus—the Pharisees become bolder and sent the most educated among them to intimidate Jesus and undermine his teaching. Again, they are not coming to be in relationship with Jesus—they do not seek to test their truths with him—their singular purpose is to publicly humiliate him and undermine the miraculous life of healing that Jesus lived. They were jealous of the truth because the truth undermined their power, authority and self-righteousness. Our response today should not be to condemn those men for their actions; but to look inside my intentions for those motives. When am I like that in my relationships?

Matthew 22:35-36

[Mt 22:35] One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, [36] “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (NAS)

A lawyer tempted Him

A lawyer [nomikos] in the tradition of Jesus’ culture was highly respected—though not necessarily well-liked. The parameters of a Jewish lawyer included both legal and religious issues and their years of intense studies set them apart—even from other Pharisees. These men were considered the “best and the brightest” of their time. All of that tells us one thing: How confused we become when our focus is on man’s puny wisdom—even when that focus is based in scripture! Becoming awed by our own wisdom and impressed with our own mental gymnastics has led us down the path of stupidity throughout history.

How would I like to go down in history as the lawyer who tried to discipline Jesus?

The last thing I would ever want to be is the man who was known for “prosecuting Jesus Christ.” Indeed, in Matthew, he was sent to do more than test Jesus. The word used in this section for “testing Jesus” is “peirazo”. It also means to tempt, scrutinize or even to discipline Jesus. Interestingly enough, in Mark’s version [Mark 12:28-35], a different scenario is presented. The lawyer actually becomes a follower of Jesus. He asks his question not to tear Jesus down but to give Jesus the opportunity to speak for himself.

Which version reveals the person that I am? Do I read the Word of God with a skeptical eye choosing the truth that is most comfortable and least challenging to me? Or am I like Mark’s lawyer, confident that the Word of God is fully capable of sustaining Himself throughout the test of time. Am I willing to submit to the Word or am I prone to adapt the Word of God to my culture, my needs or my comfort?

Matthew 22:37-40

[Mt 22:37] And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ [38] “This is the great and foremost commandment. [39] “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ [40] “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’” (NAS)

With all thy feelings; breath and thoughts (imagination)

It is easy to say this commandment is used so repetitively that its words no longer impact us. But look close again. First there is the word, “all [holos],” it means complete (perfect) in every way. Perfect in extent, time and degree. One definition is “unawares.” In other words, even our random thoughts or daydreams become filled with thoughts about God. This is holos—all—the position that God wants in our life. Not for his sake, but for our own. This is what it means to make Jesus our “Lord.” In this humble state we find absolute and uninterruptible joy. Not a joy found by separating ourselves from others (like the Pharisees or adhering to a doctrine like the Sadducees). It is the joy found in seeing the living God in all things, all people, all day.

Secondly God asks for all our heart, mind and might. In essence, this means every feeling, thought and even our passion must be focused on him. Remember, the word Christ used for perfection was translated as ‘Telios’ in Greek. It is the root word of telescope, it means to be totally focused. The lens of our life focuses on God’s touch in all things. Our continual expectation is that God’s mighty hand is in each high and low of life. Rolling off our lips should be the words, “I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with this roadblock/crisis/joy!”

Jesus expresses the “attitudes of perfection” in the Beatitudes. Primarily in Matthew 5:8:

Matthew 5:8

[Mt 5:8] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (NAS)

To see God is to be totally focused. Telios, purely concentrated in all ways upon Him.

Love your neighbor as yourself?

Many of the Pharisees would walk away from this encounter with Jesus filled with more pride if the Lord had stopped at saying; “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind.” They would have said; “That’s us, see how we have devoted our lives to this endeavor.”  However, Jesus continues and bursts their self-righteous bubble by stating; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Pharisees made a huge show of loving God. They went through unbelievable degrees of absurdity to publicly display their piety. Some were called the “Bruised Pharisees.” These men believed that to talk or look at a woman (even their own wife or sister) on the street was a sin. So, they walked about with cloth covering their faces to prevent such evil. As a result, they would show up at the synagogue with bumps and bruises everywhere to highlight their piety.

Another branch of Pharisees would not lift their heads from the roads as a dramatic show of humility. They wouldn’t even lift their feet from shuffling in the dirt so as to illustrate their humanity. They were proud of developing hunchbacks and to be covered with dirt as symbols of their “self-effacing nature.” No wonder Jesus (with his laughter, love of life and of children) was an insult to them.

God intends our humility not as a symbol of lifelong guilt and somberness—but as a path to liberation and joy! The liberation found when we are freed from constantly focusing on “What about me?” The joy found when we realize just how expansive his love is for us!

Jesus undermined the very concept of being a “Separated One (Pharisee)” by stating love of God is a deception if it doesn’t lead to the love of our neighbor. Piety is disgusting to God without the love of others.

Abandon yourself?

Here is one of the great misinterpretations of the modern bible. For years I have heard people interpret this verse with the tag line, “We can’t love others until we love ourselves.” This is simply more “post-modern psycho-babble.” The bible is not about loving ourselves! The ultimate deception is that we can become in any manner more loving by becoming more self-focused. Truthfully, we become more loving by becoming less self-focused! The more we focus on God and the more we share his love with others—the fuller our lives become. If we want to be more loved—love more!

The scripture doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It would be closer to “Abandon yourself to your neighbor as if he (she) were your very self.” It actually means; “Recklessly love your neighbor! Unconditionally, unequivocally, unbelievably love your neighbor!”

In addition, Jesus uses the verb for agapé love [agapao]. This is a “get off your duff, no holds barred, immediately get up and run out and find someone who needs to be included” type of love! It is the type of love that prompted our savior to come to earth and love sinners like us. It is also the type of love that would confront the Pharisee’s pseudo-religion of “It’s all about God admiring me. What a great servant I am. Look at my incredible dedication.”

Salvation has nothing to do with pious religiosity or personal “I’m Okay-ness.” It is about loving with total abandonment—without any self-regard whatsoever. It is about passionate love for an abundant God and the absolute inability to exclude anyone from that joy! It is about waking up each morning, not with the thought, “Who can I impress today with my head-knowledge and holiness.” It is about humbly and passionately asking the Holy Spirit, “Lord, who desperately needs your love today? Take me there.”

The type of love we are called to show is evident in the following scriptures. See if you can glean from them the type of urgency and passion that drove Christ’s disciples to leave everything behind—to totally forfeit themselves—in order to give his love is others.

Deuteronomy 6:5

[Deut 6:5] “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (NAS)

Romans 15:2

[Rom 15:2] Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. (NAS)

Galatians 6:10

[Gal 6:10] So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (NAS)

1 Timothy 1:5

[1 Tim 1:5] But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (NAS)

I John 4:7-8

[I Jn 4:7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. [8] The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (NAS)

I John 4:19-21

[I Jn 4:19] We love, because He first loved us. [20] If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. [21] And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (NAS)

The fulcrum commandment

Following this encounter, the Pharisees—like the Herodians, the Sadducees and the Chief Priests before them—would be forced to either reconsider their entire theology or get rid of Jesus. He was becoming too problematic. His following was getting too large for them to simply ignore and, in every challenge that was laid before our Lord, his intimate grasp of God revealed not only the legitimacy of his Messianic claims but also the gaping holes in theirs.

To follow God’s true path, the Pharisees (committed to ritualism and piety) would have to completely restructure their haughty attitudes and instead become servants—first to Christ and then to the people. The truth is that these men who confronted Christ would never be able to serve anyone else’s needs but their own.

Their religion was not based in love—but in public ritual. They were not inspired to an attitude of compassion—but to an attitude of judgment. Yet, all of the other commandments only make sense with the commands of love and service as their base. They are “suspended from” these two commands. They are like a child’s mobile hovering from the ceiling, if these two linking pins are missing, then everything else will be lying on the floor.

The Pharisees could remember each detail of scripture and would spend rigorous hours everyday following their rituals and debating tradition. However, they had forgotten the two most important precepts of faith: If our rituals do not lead us to abandon ourselves to God and to others—then they are worthless.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[1 Cor 13:1] If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have {the gift of} prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [3] And if I give all my possessions to feed {the poor,} and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (NAS)

“Love God completely—love your neighbor recklessly!” Love with total abandon—love until there is no “self” left over. That is what our faith hinges upon according to Christ. Upon what linking pins do I hang my life?

Does the practice of my faith balance upon humility and service? Is my daily quest like that of Micah: To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? Do my habits of prayer, fellowship and study lead me into deeper service of God and others? Paul tells us that remains the very reason of our existence.

1 Corinthians 13:13

[1 Cor 13:13] But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Matthew 22:41-45

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44      ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet?’”

45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.

“Jesus asked them a question…”

Christ will ask us a question someday; what would I prefer that question to be? Do I want it to be a theological question—a question about the doctrine or beliefs upon which hinged my “religion?” We can see that Christ pierces those issues with but a mere sentence to the Herodians, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. All of them thought they were right and all were eternally wrong.

Do I want it to be a question about my possessions? In previous studies we have seen that Christ cares not for what I have collected but instead what I have distributed. He will not ask, “How much have you amassed?” He will ask, “How much have you disbursed?”

Or, do I want the question to be about love? A dear friend of mine said that Jesus asks only two questions: “Who did you love and who loved you?”

“What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?”

Jesus questions the Pharisees on a matter straight from their simplest catechism: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” The Pharisee’s response, “the son of David,” is scriptural and comes from Psalm 89:35-36, “I will not lie unto David; his seed shall endure for ever” (Isaiah 9:7), “upon the throne of David.” And Isaiah 11:1, “A rod out of the stem of Jesse.”

Then, Jesus reaches back to 2 Samuel 23:1-2:

2 Samuel 23:1-2

23:1 Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, and the man who was raised on high declares, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, 2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.”

After establishing that the Spirit of the Lord inspired David, Jesus quotes the King of Israel in Psalm 110:

Ps 110:1

110:1 A Psalm of David.
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.”

The entire reading (from 34-46) is comprised of two questions:

  1. Which is the greatest commandment?
  2. Whose son is David?

The Pharisees knew there would be a Messiah but they thought he would be a man like David in leadership and also from David’s genealogical line. They never thought that the Messiah would also be the Son of God. This is what dumbfounded them. It is why they were speechless. They had all of their combined years of wisdom and tradition and yet Jesus—in one sentence—shows them that they still have no grasp of even the simplest scripture.

On the day that we meet Jesus all of our arguments will end. Our head knowledge, our physical prowess, our earthly positions and all that we have amassed will be revealed for the dross that it really is: Vanity. What will be left?

  1. Did you abandon yourself to love?
  2. Did you recognize why God sent his son to die for us and give him your heart?

On that day, let us make sure that the only thing that is revealed is not our foolishness or idleness in God’s purpose, let us make sure that the only thing that is revealed is our love of others and our passion for God.

About the Author

Jerry Goebel is a community organizer who started ONEFamily Outreach in response to gang violence and youth alienation in a rural community in Southeastern Washington. Since that time, Jerry has worked with communities around the globe to break the systemic hold of poverty by enhancing the strengths of the poor.

A primary philosophy of ONEFamily Outreach is to teach; “poverty is a lack of healthy relationships.” And, a primary focus of ONEFamily Outreach has been to break down the barriers of poverty through creating “cultures of intentional courtesy.”

As well as having developed ongoing mentoring outreaches in his own community, Jerry travels extensively to work with church leaders, community governments, and educators.

Jerry has received five popular music awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a Best Educational Video Award from the National Catholic Education Association, and a lifetime achievement award from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry for living Gospel Values.

To contact or book Jerry for a presentation in your area write or call:

Jerry Goebel
ONEFamily Outreach
(509) 525-0709

Copyright Notice

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.  This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2007 ©

Scripture Quotations noted from NASB are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION of the bible. Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. (

The New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” These files are public domain.

The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the “Theological Word Book of the Old Testament.” These files are considered public domain.

NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries. Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. (

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