daily biblical sermons

Out of all the Old Testament commandments Jesus picks love of God and neighbor as the two great commandments
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 30th Sunday of the Year, October 29, 2023
Exodus 22:20-26, Psalm 17 (18), 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Matthew 22:34-40

Biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“When the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ 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. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and prophets’” (Matthew 22:34-40).



Once again, the Pharisees try to trip Jesus up with a question. They ask him a very common and popular question that was much debated among the Jews at the time, namely which commandment was the greatest of all. Remember that the Jews had over six hundred commandments in the Old Testament, and so they were constantly debating with each other about which of these many commandments is the first and greatest.



We might think that everyone would say that love of God and neighbor are the greatest commandments, as Jesus did, but the fact is that they had many different answers. Some thought that the Sabbath commandment was the greatest commandment. Others thought that circumcision was the greatest, and many other answers were given.



So they asked Jesus to see what he might say. And he tells them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).



This sounds like a simple and obvious answer, but I think we all know how difficult it is to fulfill these two commandments. Does everyone naturally love God? People who are not religious generally do not love God. They fear him, knowing that they are not obeying his commandments, and they fear his punishment after death.  



How can you love someone that you fear? You avoid a person that you fear. You even hate a person that you fear. Many fear and hate God, because they think that he is spoiling their fun by forbidding the immoral way that they want to live, and he makes them feel guilty and filled with fear of future punishment in the next life.



The last thing these people would say is that they love God. And yet Jesus tells us that this is the first and most important commandment. So how can natural man love God? He can’t. He has to first be saved and reconciled to him and this comes through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ for us on the cross.



“But how shall we obtain this love towards God? It is no natural feeling. We are born in sin, and, as sinners, are afraid of God. How then can we love Him? We can never really love Him until we are at peace with Him through Christ. When we feel our sins forgiven, and ourselves reconciled to our holy Maker, then, and not until then, we shall love Him and have the spirit of adoption. Faith in Christ is the only true spring of love to God. They love most who feel most forgiven” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900, emphasis in the text).



How can we overcome our fear of God because of our sins and his future punishment after this life? We can overcome this fear by being forgiven and knowing and experiencing that our sins have been definitively forgiven. But how does this happen? We know that God is all just, and therefore we fear him. Since he is all just, he must punish all our sins in a just way. And since we know ourselves as sinners, we fear rather than love God. And we do not feel forgiven, because we have a debt of punishment that we know we owe God for our sins. So how can we finally come to peace with God so that we can love him?



God answers this question for us by sending us a Savior who pays for us our debt of suffering in punishment for our sins. This Savior is Jesus Christ, and he paid for our sins on the cross. There he suffered the punishment that we owe God for our sins, and this is applied to us by God when we put our faith in Christ, sincerely repent of our sins, and have a firm purpose of amending our life.



Then, and only then, can we begin to love God, because we are at peace with him, and our fear of punishment after death has been overcome. Our debt of punishment for our sins has been paid for us by Christ, when we put our faith in him. So faith in Christ leads to love of God, and those who feel most forgiven are those who love God most.



Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), and if you ask who loved Jesus the most, most people would probably say Mary Magdalene. “They love most who feel most forgiven” (JC Ryle).



And how can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Most people are not interested in loving their neighbor, except for loving their wife and children. How, then, can they fulfill this second great commandment of loving everyone as themselves?



“And how shall we obtain this love towards our neighbor? This is also no natural feeling. We are born selfish, hateful, and hating one another (Titus 3:3). We shall never love our fellow man aright until our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit. We must be born again. We must put off the old man, and put on the new, and receive the mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then, and not until then, our cold hearts will know true God-like love towards all” (JC Ryle).



One way of loving our neighbor, if we have some specialty, is to exercise that specialty out of love for our neighbor as our way of serving him. A medical doctor has the specialty of medicine, and sick people go to him, and he helps them. This is his main way of loving his neighbor and doing good to him. And he accepts anyone who comes to him. This is the way he loves them.



After we go to a general practitioner, he may refer us to a specialist for the particular disease or problem that we have. So we go to the specialist, and he treats us with his specialty. Each different kind of specialist loves his neighbor in a different way according to his particular specialization. This would be his main way of loving his neighbor.



So I can ask myself what specialty do I have? What special gift has God given me. Am I a car mechanic? Then all the people whose cars are broken come to me, and I fix their car for them. Am I a schoolteacher of young children? Parents bring their young children to me, and I teach them. That is my main way of showing my love for my neighbor – teaching their children with dedication and love. Am I a priest and is my specialty preaching sermons that are helpful to people to motivate them so that they organize their life better and become better Christians? So I love my neighbor in a practical way by working hard on my sermons to help people by my specialty. Am I a mother with many small children that take all my time caring for them? Then that’s my specialty – to take care of all these children. This then is the main way that I love my neighbor.



But love of neighbor should not be limited only to one’s specialty. I should try to be a loving person all the time to whomever I meet, even if it has nothing to do with my particular specialization.

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