Year A 30th Sunday: Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together
22:35 and, to put him to the test, one of them put a further question,
22:36 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?'
22:37 Jesus said to him, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
22:38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
22:39 The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
22:40 On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.'


Jesus is teaching in the temple of Jerusalem (21:23). The last few weeks we heard how he was teaching in parables. The content of the parables was the same in all cases. The traditional people of God did not do what they were supposed to do: living a life of mercy, grace and compassion. So God choose other people: Jesus’ disciples.

Among them were men and women of bad reputation, but since they followed Jesus they had been transformed into God’s chosen ones.

Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap him in his words by asking him about paying tax. He had surprised them by his reply: ‘Give to Cesar what belongs to Cesar and to God what belongs to God’ (22:21). Other opponents showed up: the Sadducees who didn’t believe in resurrection. He surprised them as well by his word that God is not a God of dead people, but of living ones (22:32).

That is the moment for one of the Pharisees to ask him for the greatest commandment. Perhaps the answers of Jesus were so confusing for them that they asked themselves, ‘But was is he believing? Does he share our faith, the real faith?’


Jesus mentions ‘Law and Prophets’. That is the Bible of his age, our ‘Old Testament’ (because of our Jewish fellow faithful it would be more respectful to speak about the First Testament). In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus unfolds his vision on ‘Law and Prophets’. He did not come to abolish them but to bring them to fulfilment (5:17). In the beginning of that Sermon he says, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (5:48). At the end of that same Sermon he concludes: ‘So everything that you want people should do for you, you must do just the same for them. That is Law and Prophets’ (7:12). Jesus’ way of arguing starts with looking at the Father, which leads to taking care of people. That is exactly what he says today to the Pharisee. God is served/loved in the best way by serving/loving people...

It is striking how Jesus is down to earth in his spirituality. When the rich young man asks him what to do to possess eternal life, Jesus answers, ‘Keep the commandments.’ The young man asks him, ‘Which ones?’ Then Jesus mentions only the commandments which are related with the neighbour; he doesn’t mention any commandment which is related to God (Matthew 19:18-19). Twice in Matthew’s Gospel he emphasizes, ‘Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifices’ (9:13; 12:7). Later he will say that religious devotions are important, but the most important is justice, mercy and good faith (23:23).

Picture Meditation

The artist places Jesus – characteristically clothed in his red colour - in the centre of his painting. The golden sun of God in the background gives the impression of a halo. One of the Pharisees stands in front of him; the finger of his right hand points at Jesus, the left hand seems to say, ‘And what do you think about...?’ On his side in the background two other religious leaders talking with each other; one of them in a white garment (the pope?).

Around Jesus – on the other side - a crowd of people. Jesus is pointing at them with his left hand. With his right he points up to heaven. His hands illustrate his words: loving God has the same value as loving the people.

Two worlds are placed in front of each other: the religious leaders on the left side, and Jesus with his people on the other side. On the left: no woman, only men, three men: happy few? On Jesus’ side: a crowd of men and women; the crowd seems to continue outside the painting. Two separated worlds, almost. First they are connected by the sun at the background, representing the presence of God. Secondly, there is another connection between these two worlds: the finger of the Pharisee. He is pointing at the arm which says, ‘You must love the Lord your God...’ He may well recognize what that arm says. But will he make the connection with the other hand?

I look at the Pharisee. It is clear for what purpose he came to Jesus. He wanted to know if Jesus really was an orthodox faithful. Do I recognize (something of) myself in him?

And I look at the people around Jesus. Why did they come to him? To listen to him? To be healed? Consoled? They do not look very joyful. Is that deliberately meant by the artist to make clear that they have to be loved by their religious leaders, and weren’t till this moment?

Can I identify myself with one of these people? And can I identify myself with Jesus?

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J