Lectionary Year A
October 27, 2002
Matthew 22:34-46

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) The Mark 12:28-34 parallel has Jesus' first answer beginning with, "The first is, 'Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love . . .'." And Mark and Luke add strength (iscouj), too. Mark also has Jesus stating that, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" after which no further questions were asked Him. Also, in Luke 10:25-28, Jesus is reported to have answered the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" John 7:40-42 finds the crowds recognizing Jesus' authenticity/authority. Calling Him "Messiah, from Galilee, from Bethlehem where David and descended from David," and thereafter some wanted to arrest Him and others left Him without laying hands on Him. In Romans 13:9f, Paul emphasizes how "love for neighbors" fulfills all the Law, repeated in Galatians 5:14.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) The Shema in Deuteronomy 6, produces the Law to love with all heart, soul and might (NRSV). Joshua 22:5 reiterates the sum of the Commandments in loving and serving God with all heart and soul. Leviticus 19:18 puts love for neighbors as for selves in the context of preventing taking vengeance and bearing grudges and concludes with God's saying, "I am the Lord." David is reported to have said, "The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me, His word is upon my tongue," in II Samuel 23:2. Verse 44 of our lection at hand quotes Psalm 110:1, where God promises victory over enemies. And, in exhorting proper ethical response to God's incarnation, the late second century CE, Sibylline Oracles 8:480-484 says to "Be humble in heart, hate bitter power, and, above all, love your neighbor as yourself and love God from the soul and serve him. Therefore we are also of the holy heavenly race and of Christ, and are called brethren." These sentiments, written with some seemingly compassion, continue to appeal to those ages.

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) These philosophical thinkers would look for the use of the mind to love, as the commandment(s) mentioned here seem to do. They readily utilized thought and reflection in their search for truth, what is good and right and proper. The brain they might identify with the soul, psyche (yuch) to do their thinking that produces their thoughts on which they reflected much. Such mental perceptions could lead to understanding, one of their life's goals. As long as "love" means to seek actively the well-being of others, it could speak the Hellenists' language. Of course these theorists would spend all their lives' energies and times asking questions and dealing with various answers, including unanswered questions as the second part of our pericope presents. If the heart, soul, mind and even strength comprise the sum total of the whole self, they would like the holistic view to occupy them, too. Then, as well, they could love themselves with hardly any question of whether it is ever able to be overdone. What would they do with the image of Jesus' coming from David's line?

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