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Fr. Joseph Clayton Neiman
an Episcopal priest   
   In Paw Paw, MI   

Proper 25-A                        Dt 34:1-12; 1 Thess 2:1-8; Mt 22:34-46

Church of the Epiphany, South Haven                       Fr. Joseph Neiman


Theme: “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?”

(Mt. 22:36)


“Teacher which is the great commandment of the Law?” What are we to make of this question and Jesus’ answer?


Let’s put the question in our language: what is paramount, what is most important for being a faithful disciple of Jesus? We have four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles, and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament reflecting the words and deeds of Jesus. Have you read all these books of the New Testament? Can you quote the Sermon on the Mount? Do you know the parables? Can you tell me what were some of the central concerns of Paul in building on the teaching of Jesus? I can’t do that and I am a daily student of the Bible, and have studied it for years. So what is truly important for being a faithful disciple of Jesus?


Remember the context of today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, and he is teaching in the Temple courtyards much to the annoyance of the chief priests and elders of the people. He even caused a disturbance in the Temple and was nearly arrested.


Unlike the last couple of Sundays, in this narrative I do not believe the lawyer is seeking to trap or test Jesus. He is asking what any Jew, who wanted to be a faithful observant Jew, might ask a famous rabbi or teacher. You see in the Hebrew Scriptures, most of which were available for Jews in Jesus’ day, there were three large scrolls or divisions: the Torah (commonly called the Law), the Prophets, and the Writings (some of which were not yet fully recognized in the early part of the first century.


The Torah or Law was taught by Moses and viewed as the essential teaching for living, containing as it did not only what we would term “religious” or “spiritual” teaching, but instructions for daily life as families and as a people. Everything, even the most common things, are related to their relationship with God as God’s chosen people. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight” we read in the Book of Proverbs, a saying that teaches cheating in the marketplace is wrong. 


Jews considered the Torah or the Law as paramount, with the prophets giving commentary on it as it applied to historical situations, and the Writings applying wisdom to all aspects of life, such as we see in Proverbs. The Torah or Law was contained in five books called the Pentateuch; namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy from which today’s first lesson was taken. Within these books, with narratives about the history of the Jews, are three large codes of law: the Covenant Code in the Book of Exodus, which begins with what we call the Ten Commandments; the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus; and the Deuteronomic Code, which repeats the Ten Commandments and adds other stipulations. All told, there are 613 precepts in these three codes, 365 negative (“Thou shalt not”) and 248 positive (Thou shalt).