I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Gospel Matthew 22:34-46
C. Other texts for Year A, Sunday, October 23rd in Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
35 Another trick question to divide Jesus’ supporters. We use this behavior today to divide political groups against a candidate.
40 If we could but love God, everything else would fall into place.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
This is preceded by another controversy story, which ends with Jesus taking the Pharisee’s point of view against the Sadducees regarding remarriage and the resurrection. Could this testing by the Pharisee’s be an attempt to show Jesus as not one of them either?
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Mark reports this question and answer as a friendly inquiry from a scribe. Jesus’ conversation with the scribe ends with Jesus saying: “You are not far from the kingdom of heaven;” which may be understood as a word of encouragement, a declaration that the scribe is standing before the Son of God, or as sarcasm meaning the scribe is nowhere near the kingdom of heaven. Or as irony, the kingdom of heaven is standing only a few inches away from the Scribe.
Matthew omits the beginning of the Shema in his response, which is carried fully in Mark 12:28-34).
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
Matthew calls the Pharisee who questions Jesus as a lawyer. This is Matthew’s only use of /nomikos/. Boring translates this as an expert theologian, consistent with the NIV which reads “an expert in the law.”
III. Question the text.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
Jesus is asked to pick the most important commandment in the law. At that time rabbis had counted 613 laws, 248 positive commands, corresponding to the number of body parts, and 365 negative commands, corresponding to the number of days in a year. The trap comes from a belief that every commandment is equally binding and any rank ordering human presumption of knowing the divine.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
M. Eugene Boring, The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew.” “It is striking that Jesus is asked for one command but responds with two. Matthew alone specifically adds that the second is ‘like’ (/omoia/) the first. This does not mean merely that it is similar, but that it is of equal importance and inseparable from the first. The great command to love God has as its inseparable counterpart the command to love neighbor. One cannot first love God and then, as a second task, love one’s neighbor. To love God is to love one’s neighbor, and vice verse.” And can one love one’s neighbor, without loving one’s self as well?
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond