Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40

At what point did we make it so complicated? Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That seems so clear, so simple, so eminently do-able. But somehow those simple words of Jesus resulted in fractured communities competing with each other to define exactly what that would look like in real life. And that was just in the first few decades after Jesus died. It eventually got even worse. Today there are tens of thousands of competing voices in the world, all clamoring about how they have this “following Jesus” thing figured out better than anybody else.

Is it really as simple as “where two or three are gathered together they will inevitably come up with something to argue about?” Or is it not quite as simple as it looks?

Every time I read the word “love” in the New Testament I try to remind myself of the specificity of the Greek language around that word. If I don’t do this little mind exercise I will inevitably veer away from the text and miss the deeper point.

As you have no doubt heard many times in your life, there are three words for love in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.

Eros”, the root of “erotic” is love based on body chemistry that seeks to USE the beloved.

Philios”, a root word in “Philadelphia”, the city of brotherly love (unless a Super Bowl is in sight), is love based on our emotions and feelings. It is love that seeks to ENJOY the beloved.

Agape” is loved based in our minds, our wills, in our decision-making functions. It is a love that decides, in a self-sacrificing way, to SERVE the beloved.

It should come as no surprise that “agape” is the word that Matthew (and all of the other New Testament writers) use when Jesus says we are to agape God and agape our neighbor as we agape ourselves.

That’s why it isn’t as simple as it seems. We don’t get to “eros” God and play “what’s in it for me?” We don’t get to “philios” Jesus and ignore the needs and lives of our neighbors. We don’t get to…but we do. And there is always someone out there promising a better deal.

It is far more difficult to slow down and think clearly. In every situation and moment of life, what does it look like for me to make choices that reflect God’s love and will for my life? What does it look like, and what does it call forth from me, to make a positive difference in the life of my neighbor? We might reach different conclusions but at least our love will be in the right place.

Let us pray: Teach us O Lord, in all things, what agape means in our lives. Guide our minds, fill our imaginations, that we might be wholly yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


2 Responses to “Matthew 22:34-40”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    I looked up agape love and according to Wikipedia: “Agape is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, “the highest form of love, charity” and “the love of God for man and of man for God”.

    According to “The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used. Agape love involves faithfulness.”

    For those of us who seek to be your faithful servants help us to reach true agape love in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  2. Kara Says:

    Father John Riccardo suggested as an exercise to replace the noun love in 1 Corinthians 13 with your name. Kara is patient, Kara is kind and so on. Helps to see where your love walk me be lacking.

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