Christ The Teacher: Which Is The First Of All The Commandments?

The Gospels record many of Jesus’s exchanges with the scribes and Pharisees as ‘controversery’ stories, that is, a dispute over some matter or other, ending with a ‘pronouncement’ from Jesus.

Unusually, this story is not one of bitter controversy, but rather of a question posed by a scribe, which earns him praise from the Master.

The scribe asks Jesus: “Which is the greatest commandment ?”, in the sense, which is the parent commandment from which all others flow?

In his reply, Jesus followed the teaching of many commentators on the Law, who identified Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 5: “Hear O Israel, you are to love the Lord your God….”, with your whole being.

In other words, man’s love of God is to be total and undivided. However Jesus goes on to add a second commandment from Leviticus chapter 19, that “you love your neighbour as yourself.” This commanded the Israeli to love his fellow Jew, and even resident aliens living in Israel.

Then Jesus does something new: he combines both commandments into one moral principle. He makes the love of neighbour the equivalent of the love of God, and praises the Jewish scribe who says that “the love of neighbour is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice.”

So used are we to hearing these texts, that we fail to realize their startling innovation. Jesus raises the respect and love of one’s fellow man and woman to that of an equal status with God.

Later in the Gospels, he will give this distinctive mark to his followers: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.”

Note what Jesus says: not that you love me; not that you worship me; but that you show love and concern for anyone and everyone who has need of it from you.

This indeed is the greatest commandment, and one which challenges us still.

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