The Third Wave is Beaten Back

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.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

With the repulse of the second assault team comprised of the Sadducees, the third wave assault team advances, this time comprised of Pharisees. Unlike the first two waves of attack, this one included an “expert” in the law; they were bringing in one of their “big guns” at this point. It’s interesting to note a slight variation in Matthew’s account in relation to that of Mark 12:28 ff., Mark portrays the third wave as asking a genuine question, while Matthew, the eyewitness, indicates that the question was a test.

Yet in just reading the text, it seems like a fair question; where is the test? Here’s the “behind the scenes story”, as revealed in ancient rabbinic writings:

The Pharisees, sticklers about the law, identified 613 laws of Moses, 365 of which were negative commands, and 248 of which were positive. Of the 613, they differentiated between those they considered “light” and those they considered to be “heavy”, meaning that some of them were a bigger deal than others. However, just because one of these commands was “light” did not mean that it could be neglected, for as they wrote, “Be as heedful of a lighter precept as of a weighty one, for thou knowest not the recompense of reward of each precept” (m. Abot 2:1; Str-B 1:904-5).Since the whole idea of which commandment was greatest was commonly discussed and debated in Pharisaic circles, their trap was that Jesus, and notice they called Him “teacher” (Rabbi) when they asked, might give an answer that implied that one or more of the commands could be neglected, and in doing so could be charged with a violation of Torah that would discredit Him with the people. Back to our story…

Jesus not only avoided their trap, but He rejected their entire (unspoken) premise in mentioning the two love commandments; love God, love your neighbor. In fact, He stated these as the backdrop for His entire approach to the Law, for the Law must not be understood as simply a list of do’s and don’ts, ordinances and violations, but rather in relational terms, a concept that was as foreign to the Pharisees as it was appealing to the crowds. Sadly, it is foreign to a lot of Christians as well.

The third wave assault team was stopped in its tracks.

When we get together again next time, Jesus counter attacks; you won’t want to miss this one!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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10 Responses to The Third Wave is Beaten Back

  1. Pingback: The Third Wave is Beaten Back | The Life Project | Re-theologizing

  2. paulfg says:

    Your posts seem to prompt connecting thoughts (some might call these random – I prefer to call them “conversation”).

    I have grown weary of seeing the bible used offensively: this is what “it” says, so why do I do that? The use of verses and “what Jesus said” and “what the bible says” to approach others’ behaviour or words and thoughts in “loving righteous” indignation (kind of stuff).

    And as I finished reading this post He breathed a sigh: “Read “it” to change you – not others.”

    And letting that ripple outwards, I find myself pondering this – do I read these verses, these encounters, and (consciously/unconsciously) store up ammunition to lob at others (believers not quite “correct” in their believing – ,sinners “totally off message”) …

    Or do I let them roam inside my head and heart – seeking out my “eccentricities” … my “that’s the way He made me” foibles … my uniqueness I am happy to endorse as “His creation – so not my fault” … all those subtle justifications I find – the same “light and heavy” preferences not of law, but of my own internal hierarchy: the things I call sin, the things I call personality, imperfection, “me”, you – not me, God – not me …

    Not sure where this is going (and that is why these “connecting thoughts” never seem simply random musings).

    Thank you ((hugs))

    • Don Merritt says:

      You seem to be having some interesting and insightful “conversation” there Paul, and your thoughts remind me of something that you might find of interest. Once upon a time, I was always on the lookout for ammunition, both to use against the ammunition of the others and to use against myself.

      Then I made my choice not to debate any more with others. Sometime later, I decided to stop debating myself and to just relax and let God do whatever work He wanted to do with me. To be sure, getting the hang of this was not quick and easy, and to be sure, I’m still a work in progress, but I have an easier time with these passages then I used to because I’m not concerned with fighting anybody, myself or others; then something really cool happens…

      Ever lose your car keys or glasses? Getting all frustrated and cranky about finding them never seems to help, does it? I never find things like that until I relax enough to get over the emotions involved and then somehow, almost miraculously… there they are.

      Texts like this are kind of the same way in that when I just stop trying to fight the battle in my head, the picture clears and the answer is right there in front of me. For me at least, getting out of God’s way often looks like that.

      • paulfg says:

        “For me at least, getting out of God’s way often looks like that.”

        The Final Frontier – where no man has gone before! More and more I live with a certainty that there is One who seeks only good for me. More and more accepting that I do not know what that is, nor what that means in the company of others (for whom the same is true). Yet more and more content to “say yes to whatever He asks”. That is freedom!

  3. I always thought the whole “Law” thing was interesting. First God gave man one law, “don’t eat from this tree” and we failed; then he gave us 10 laws, and we failed; then there were the 613 Laws of Moses, and we failed. Then Jesus comes and says, guess what? We’re doing away with all the “don’t to this” laws since they didn’t work and I’m giving you two “do” laws: Love God, love your neighbor” and we’ll see how that goes when I get back.

    So, how have we done?

  4. bcaudle77 says:

    wow, great insight Don, thank you!!

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