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Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

See Back to Galilee (2012)



The two greatest commandments—love God and your neighbor as yourself—reveal divine activity, recognized as divine in whatever person, time, or place, the results of love become manifest. With this in mind, one can begin then to see how the Gospel writers present the man Jesus. Looking strictly at the Gospels, one will see always through the eyes of others, and the interpretative process becomes amazingly complex and simple: complex because the language, first century culture, and life actions of an individual must be reconstructed within the evidences of public discourse, and we know more today than ever before about these; simple because focusing on the Gospels as received in translation, one is free to look at what is said and what happens, trusting the scholarship of others.  Reading the Gospels in parallel provides a useful linear understanding to differences in what was said and done; the more interesting work, of course, involves understanding what made the writers focus upon the different sayings and actions and what unity ultimately exists within the differences. To determine who Jesus is, one will, of course, be required to study more than simply these narratives.  Paul remains an early interpreter of Jesus’ life, and ancient texts provide yet another inroad into understanding this life more completely. 

In Matthew (22:34-40), Jesus comes to the temple during the week prior to crucifixion. The Pharisees and Herodians ask him about paying taxes. The Sadducees ask about resurrection. Jews did not immediately believe in an resurrection. The resurrection was reserved for people who believed they had to be rewarded, not in this life but the next. Following answers about which the crowds marvel, the Pharisees ask him which is the great commandment. If I understand correctly, 613 laws tell us how to behave. Of these, 248 are positive; 365 are negative. Of these,  200 can't be observed because they refer to ritual, the temple, land or  culture.  Deuteronomy teaches we are to love God with heart, soul, and strength. Among the ten commandments, five address how we are to behave relative to our God, and five, how we are to behave to neighbors (humans). Rather than focusing on what we should not do--not harm, not work ill, not steal from them, not involve them in adultery, not tell lies about them, not covet their belongings, not kill--Jesus points to the provision that enables keeping such laws: love. Importantly, too, Jesus focuses attention on the outcome of loving God: loving neighbors. Jesus reminds us we really are our brother's keeper.

In Mark (12.28-34), the Herodians, Pharisees, and Sadducees, having had their own questions answered wisely, encourage one trained in the law and scriptures, a Scribe, to ask the question about the greatest commandment. One may not understand the scope of the challenge to Jesus, if one fails to understand that more than six hundred commandments existed. Jesus chose the one which could not be challenged: love God. He followed by volunteering a second, related command: to love one's neighbor as one's own self. Together, these two commandments provide the foundation for relationship--to God and human beings.

See Gospel Fulfillment.