The Greatest of All Commandments
( Originally Published 1915 )
WHILE JESUS was talking in the Temple and answering all these questions, a teacher of the law was standing near and listening. He saw how well Jesus answered all the questions put to him, and coming up to him, said:
"Teacher, what commandment stands first of all?"
We might suppose that he was speaking of the Ten Commandments and asking which of these is the most important. But that was not his purpose. He was thinking, not of the commandments given by God, but of the rules made by the scribes. One teacher would say that the rules about keeping the Sabbath were the greatest, another that the rules about washing were first; and so on, each scribe or teacher laying stress on one set of rules above another. Jesus looked upon all these little laws made by men as of no importance; and this was his answer to the scribe who had asked the question :
"The first and greatest of all the commandments is this, `Hear, O ye people of Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.' And the second commandment is this, `Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' There is no other commandment greater than these two."
To love God with all the heart is to do God's will, not because we must do it, but because we love to do it and find joy in doing it. And to love our neighbor means to feel an interest in our fellow-men and to do for them whatever we would wish to have them do for us.
"You are right, Teacher!" said the scribe in answer to Jesus. "It is true, as you say, that there is one God; and there is no other God besides him. And to love God with the whole heart, and with the whole mind, and with the whole strength; and to love one's fellow-man as one's self—this is far beyond all offerings upon the altar!"
Jesus saw that this man's words were true and good and that he had the right thought of our duty to God and to our fellow-man. He said to him:
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
This was the last question put to Jesus. No one ventured to ask him any more, for they were afraid of his wonderful answers. The chief priests and the rulers were more and more angry at him, but the common people listened to him willingly.
While Jesus was teaching he in his turn asked a question of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
"Tell me," he said, "what you think of the Messiah-Christ, the King of Israel, promised to come. Whose son is he?"
They answered at once, "David's son."
"How is it then," asked Jesus again, "that David in one of the psalms calls him `Lord'?
"The Lord said to my Lord, `Sit at my right hand, Until I put your enemies under your feet.'
"If David calls this coming Christ `my Lord,' how can he be David's son?"
This they could not answer, and they dared not ask Jesus any more questions. But we know, from the words of the New Testament, that while Christ as a man was sprung from David's line, as the Son of God he was David's Lord.
After this Jesus spoke strong words to the priests, the scribes, and the rulers, for their wickedness of life for their leading the people away from God's will, and for their unjust, cruel purpose to put him to death. He told them that for their sins and the sins of their people, the Temple should be thrown down, the city of Jerusalem should be destroyed, and the land should be made desolate. These were his last words, and when he had spoken them, he rose up to go out of the Temple.