Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Right before this question was posed, Jesus had faced down the Sadducees. They had asked a question about marriage and heaven, and Jesus dismissed their question as invalid, since it came from a stance of ignorance. After correcting their misunderstanding, the text tells us that the Pharisees had taken notice. They were mightily interested in the response of Jesus to the Sadducees (we might today call this a “professional interest”), so they put their heads together and came up with a question that they surely thought was a doozy. “Teacher,” a lawyer asked in order to test Jesus, “what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
We occasionally sing the song, “The Greatest Commands” (which tracks 1 John 4:7-8 very closely). That song, and the text from 1 John 4, captures the essence of what has always been most important for the people of God—we must love God and we must love others. These two things are interdependent. In other words, we cannot say we love God when we do not love others. Similarly, we cannot say we love others when we do not express love for God. The reason for this is simple: God is love. So to claim love for anyone is to also claim a bond with the absolute Source of love. To fail to love others is a tacit admission that we have no connection to God.
Understanding that the greatest of all the commands—that upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang—is to love God and love others, what changes and commitments are we prepared to make so that our lives become consistent with our claims?