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Gospel of Matthew 22: 34-40 (NIV)
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We read Jesus’ words with the benefit of having the Gospels, the epistles and insights from the early church fathers. Those who listened to Jesus had only the Hebrew Scriptures, “the Law and the Prophets”.
YHWH gave the Law to the Jewish people through Moses: “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directeded me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”* Then Moses proclaimed: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”* Jesus quoted this to the Pharisees: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Moses emphasised “the LORD is one”, recognising that other “gods” would compete for Hebrew affection. Israel was to reject the gods of the nations which they were to drive out from the land YHWH promised them.
The Pharisees knew this. As Jesus repeated the greatest commandment, they would have recalled Deuteronomy 6: 10-15.
“10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you … then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt … 13 Fear the LORD your God, serve him only … 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you and he will destroy you from the face of the land.”
God knew that when his people were no longer struggling for survival or fighting to gain control over the promised land they could become comfortable, complacent and lax in their worship of him.
And so could we. We enjoy a benign climate, we have a welfare system that keeps most of us housed, educated, well fed and healthy. We have luxuries that four-fifths of the world’s population can only dream of. We are, for the moment, secure within our borders. And yet we neglect our God or ignore him completely. In our complacency, many if not most have no further need for him!
The Lord their God is the Lord our God. He is a jealous God. We are not to follow the gods of the peoples who are all around us. What gods? The gods of secular humanism or materialism or self, the gods of wealth or technology or comfort or behaviours of addiction. We have personal gods too: pride, the desire to have one’s way, to have the last word, to be right – no matter what! Unless we totally reject these false gods, we face the very real danger that the anger of the Lord our God will burn against us and many will be destroyed from the face of the land.
* From Deuteronomy 6: 1, 4-5 (NIV)