Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bible Study & Discussion on Matthew 22:36-40

This piece was written for the SCM (Scottish Christian Movement), 31st July 2015

Opening Prayer: 
Master, Lover of mankind, make the pure light of your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, opening the eyes of our mind to understand the message of your Gospel. For you are the illumination of our souls and bodies, Christ our God, and to you we give glory, together with your Father and life-giving Spirit, Amen.

Bible Passage:
‘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 a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40, RSV)

Reflection of the Passage: The connection between these two great commandments of love, and the relationship between the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and love.

After hearing about Christ putting the sadducees to shame, the pharisees brought one of their lawyers forward ‘out of immeasurable spite’(1) in order to question and test Him, hoping to ‘accuse Him of being an innovator who corrects the law.’(2) The Lord however, ‘discloses their malice, and because they came not to learn, but rather, devoid of love, to show their envy and their spite, He revealed to them the exceedingly great love expressed by the commandments.’ (3) Christ instantly reveals to them the painful reality that the law is simply meaningless if its consequence and centre is not love. The pharisees, like many of us who obsess over rules and judge others, are rightly put in their place. Jesus explains to them that the law which they assumed they completely understood, was an utter delusion, far from the true purpose of the Law established by God and His Prophets. Rather than being an external, regimented, dry list of rules, the Lord emphasises that they are commandments centred on loving God and our neighbour. 

We are told that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our being. ‘We ought not to love God partially, but to give all of ourselves to God…one must attend to Him with all the parts and powers of one’s soul.’ (4) This true, self-sacrificial, divine love for God and neighbour, as the greatest virtue (1 Cor 13) is also found in the Gospel according to St Luke:‘Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor..and come follow me.’ (Lk 18:22) Therefore, love for God and neighbour is not simply emotion, or a gesture of good will; but rather our very own κένωσις (self-emptying and sacrifice), taking on the role of a servant, putting ourselves last and others first. St Theophylact of Ohrid, commenting on this passage, interestingly tells us that there are two great obstacles in our Christian lives; falling into both evil doctrines, and a corrupt way of life. ‘Lest we fall into unholy doctrines, we must love God; so that we do not lead a corrupt life, we must love our neighbour (Levit 19:18). For he who loves his neighbour fulfils all the commandments, and he who fulfils all the commandments, loves God.’ Therefore the two commandments are very much connected and inseparable, together leading us to spiritual growth, and communion with God and our fellow human beings. ‘Whoever says “I love God” and hates his brother is a liar,’ (1 John 4:8) writes St John the Evangelist. Our belief, faith, and love in God cannot be true if we do not simultaneously love one another. The Orthodox Church reminds us of this, shortly before the Holy Eucharist; Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.’ It is interesting to find this direct connection between love and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. As Christians, we believe in the one Triune God, ‘Who is Love’ (1 John 4:8), but how can these two truths about our Creator be connected? 

God is love because He is Trinity; Three Persons in one Godhead, in an eternal relationship of love. As Christians, we are called to acquire this relationship of love and unity, found in the Holy Trinity. At the last supper, Christ prays that we ‘may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.’ (John 17:21) This is a paradigm of the Trinity; different persons but one body, in eternal communion and unity. (5)  Our chosen passage is no different, in that it reminds us of our calling to unite with God and our fellows, in communion. 

To conclude, although the pharisee’s motives were clearly distorted and impure, after hearing Christ’s reply and realising He is indeed the Saviour, fulfiller of the law (Matt 5:17), and our very God, he amends his ways and experiences the Lord’s forgiveness. ‘Thou art not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (Mk 12:34)  Let this therefore be a reminder that love is nothing less than the very presence of our personal, forgiving, Triune God, and that if we centre our lives, relations, struggles and tests on His everlasting love, we will be fulfilling His first and greatest commandment. 

Concluding Prayer:  
Lord Jesus Christ, Who art plenteous in mercy, most compassionate, and Who callest all men to salvation; Receive, our prayers at this hour, and guide our life toward Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every evil,  Amen.

1) St John Chrysostom, Homily 71 on Matthew.
2) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
3) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
4) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
5 )Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, Journey to the Kingdom, 97-99.

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