Day 22—Love God and Love Your Neighbor
Read Matthew 22:34–40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
During the intertestamental period (the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments), a variety of Jewish groups that practiced their faith in different ways and held varying beliefs about how to live until God ushered in His kingdom began to emerge. The Pharisees practiced radical obedience to the law (the Torah) and believed that separation from anything and anyone that was unclean was the way to live until God’s kingdom came. The Sadducees, who were teachers of the law and loyal to the Temple power structures, believed the way to live was to work with Roman governing officials. The other two groups—the Zealots and Essenes—espoused overthrowing the government and withdrawing from the world altogether, respectively.
What none of these groups proposed lined up with what Jesus announced as the way to live until God’s kingdom came fully and finally—with love. As we see in today’s passage, Jesus took something the Jewish people were very familiar with and prayed three times a day—the Shema (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind”)—and added a command He said was equally important: to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus would spend the rest of His life teaching what He meant by these companion commands and that, to everyone’s surprise, the poor, one’s enemies, and the unclean were among a His definition of neighbor (Luke 10:25–37). And where such love is expressed, the kingdom of God is on display.
• Why was it revolutionary for Jesus to teach that loving one’s neighbor as yourself was on par with loving God?
• How would you describe what it means to love your neighbor as yourself? In what ways do you find this command to be a stretch for you?
• Who do you naturally think of when you hear the word “neighbor”? What person or group is it harder for you to naturally include in your definition of “neighbor”?
• What does today’s passage reveal to you about God?
Lord, God, this passage sets out both my desire and my weakness. I long to be a person who loves You with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and loves my neighbor—that is, everyone—as myself. I know I fall short. I tend to want to go my own way and follow my broken desires and inclinations. And I tend to judge, exclude, and demonize others—especially when they don’t look, believe, or vote like me. And even more so, it seems, when they sin differently than me. I need Your help, Lord. Fill me with Your Spirit and allow me to love more and better. Help me to love like Jesus does. Amen.