The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 22:34-40

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 20, 2013

Mat 22:34  But the Pharisees, hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together.

“Silenced.” The original word, “εφιμωσε,” literally signifies, “to put a muzzle on their lips.”
The Pharisees had heard that He silenced the Sadducees. From this, St. Matthew leaves us to inter, that although the Pharisees were glad of the discomfiture of their opponents, the Sadducees, still, they did not imitate the people in their admiration of our Redeemer; on the contrary, stung with envy at His success, and forgetful of their own shameful defeat on the question of the tribute, they hope to confound Him by their subtle questions, and to lower Him with the multitude. “They came together,” to deliberate about the question they, in their turn, would propose, as the Sadducees had done already.

Mat 22:35  And one of them, a doctor of the law, asked him, tempting him:

“And,” at their instigation, “one of them (the Pharisees) a doctor of the law.” whose occupation it was to expound the law. St. Mark (Mk 12:28) says, He was “a Scribe.” Hence, a Pharisee might sometimes be a Scribe. “Asked Him, tempting Him,” that is, making an experiment whether He would answer his question on the practical precepts of the law, as well as He had answered the Sadducees on a speculative point; for, “He had heard them,” our Redeemer and the Sadducees, “reasoning together” (Mark 12:28). Most likely, he interrogated our Redeemer, not so much in a captious spirit, as with a view of obtaining information, “seeing that He had answered them (the Sadducees) well.” Hence, our Redeemer says of him (Mark 12:34), “thou art not far off from the kingdom of God.” Others think, he commenced in an evil, captious spirit. Hence, they take “tempting,” in a bad sense; but, that he left better disposed (St. Chrysos. in Matth. Hom. 72).

Mat 22:36  Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

“The great commandment,” that is, the greatest commandment among those propounded by Moses, compared with which others are not great, the commandment whose fulfilment is most agreeable to God. The Hebrew has no superlative; hence, the Greek phrase here partakes of the Hebrew idiom. The interpreter (v. 38) renders it, the greatest. It is observed by Ven. Bede (in Matth. 12), that it was a question much debated among the Scribes and Pharisees, which was the greatest commandment among those delivered by Moses, some giving a preference to those which related to the offering of gifts and sacrifices. Hence, they placed them before those that related to honouring our parents (Mt 15:4, 5, &c.). Others gave the preference to the precepts, which had immediately for object, the love of God and of our neighbour. Hence, the Scribe praises our Lord’s answer on the subject (Mark 12:32–34).

Mat 22:37  Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.

“Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord,” &c. In Mark (Mk 12:29), our Redeemer quotes, in substance, from Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God.” (In Deut. it is, “the Lord our God is one Lord”), as if to convey, that the faith in God, as Lord of all things, would lead us to love Him above all things; and as “ONE God,” would show, He alone was to be loved in this supreme way. Hence, to be loved “with our whole (undivided) heart.” This oneness has reference to the Divine nature. The word, for “Lord,” is Jehovah, derived from the verb, to be. It has, therefore, reference to the Divine nature. The plurality of persons is insinuated in the triple repetition—1st, “the Lord;” 2nd, “thy God;” 3rd, “is one God.” Similar are the words of the Psalmist, “Benedicat nos Deus, Deus noster, benedicat nos Deus.” “Deus noster,” is put in the second place, because by His Incarnation, the Second Person is peculiarly our God. The same is observed in the words of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4), “the Lord (1) our God (2) is one Lord” (3).

“Thou shall love,” is the same as an imperative form, love thou. “With thy whole heart,” &c. In Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) it is, “with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.” The words, “with thy whole mind,” are omitted. In Mark (Mk 12:30), Luke (Lk 10:27), four members are expressed—“thy whole heart, thy whole soul, thy whole mind, thy whole strength.” Some expositors distinguish these several members, and endeavour to assign to them a distinct meaning. St. Thomas (2da 2dæ Article 4), by the heart, understands the will; and by the three others, the principles of action, which are moved by the will, viz., the intellect, signified by the “mind;” the inferior appetite, expressed by “soul” (ψυχη); and the external power of action, denoted by “strength.” Hence, God is to be so loved by us, that our entire intention should be borne towards Him (ex corde); our intellect subject to Him; our sensual appetite regulated according to Him; our entire external course of action obedient to Him, and rendered conformable to His will and precepts. Others give different significations to the several members of the sentence; but, the general and more commonly received opinion is, that it matters but little whether there be four or only three members in the sentence; that there is no use in seeking for a distinct meaning for each, since they all signify the same as the words, “with thy whole heart.” They are added, and the same idea conveyed in different words, to intensify the sense For, that in the words, “with thy whole heart,” all the others are included, appears clear from this, that in SS. Scripture, at times, the words, “with thy whole heart,” alone are employed to express the great love of God; at times, a second member only is added, “from thy whole soul,” to express the same thing; and sometimes a third member, “with thy whole strength.” Thus, David is said to have followed the Lord “with his whole heart.” (1 Kings 1) Josias (2 Kings 23:3) made a covenant for the people, that they would keep His commandments, “with all their heart, and with all their soul;” and he himself is said (verse 25), to have “returned to the Lord with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his strength.” Hence, these several words are used, or rather, the same idea is expressed in different words, for greater emphasis’ sake. For, the word, “heart,” embraces the affections, expressed by “soul;” and intellect, expressed by “mind” (διανοια); and, moreover, in order that a man could be said to do a thing “with all his heart,” he should use his utmost exertions, as far as his strength would allow. Hence, is added, “with all thy strength.” The whole precept may be, then, summed up briefly, in the words, “thou shalt love the Lord … with thy whole heart.” The question next is, what these words mean. They certainly cannot refer to our actually and constantly loving God with all the energies of our soul, so that we should be constantly engaged in acts of love, that we should love nothing but Him, and love Him as much as He deserves to be loved. In this sense, the precept can only be fulfilled in the life to come. In this sense, we can only hope to arrive at the love of God, as the term of our fruition in heaven. In this sense, it might be suited to the angels; but, it would be impossible for us, poor weak mortals here on earth. It is in this sense, that St. Augustine, speaking in certain portions of his works, both of this precept of loving God, and of the precept, “thou shalt not covet,” says, they are not accomplished in this life, but only to be fulfilled in the life to come. The most probable meaning of them, then, is, that our love of God should be comparatively supreme; that we should be so habitually disposed, that we would bestow our love on no object opposed to God; that we would share His love with no other being, but love every one else for Him; that we should love Him, not merely with our lips, but with our hearts, unlike those who loved Him with their mouth, but their heart was not right with Him. (Ps 78:36, 37.) We should, then, love Him from our heart, and our entire heart, not coldly nor remissly, nor with a divided affection. 2ndly. It should be finally supreme. In other words, God should be the ultimate end of our actions, so that we should observe all His ordinances, and refer all we do to His honour and glory. Hence, we should love what He loves; love whatever tends to His honour, and hate and detest whatever is an obstacle to His glory, whatever derogates from it, whatever offends Him. 3rdly. It should be appreciatively, not intensitively supreme. In other words, we should not appreciate or value anything else in creation, so much as God. We should be prepared to make any sacrifice, be it of life, fortune, friends, &c., sooner than do anything opposed to His love. This may be regarded as a general precept, prescribing not only internal acts of love, to be exercised now and then, but habitual love, and external acts as well; the same as is conveyed in the second precept regarding our neighbour, whom we are to love in “work and truth.” For, on these two, our Lord says, “dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets;” so that a man may be said to fulfil the precept when He retains habitual love in all his actions, wishes for, and does nothing contrary to, the love of God.

Mat 22:38  This is the greatest and the first commandment.

“The greatest.” In the Greek it is, ἡ μεγάλη … εντολη—“the great … commandment.” But the interpreter conveyed the sense; since, the love of God “with our whole heart” has, for object, the most important and noblest virtue—the end of the entire law. From it spring the virtue of religion, and all the moral virtues. It is also the “first,” the most exalted in dignity and excellence; since, its object is God Himself, the first and supreme Good.

Mat 22:39  And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“The second,” not in order of legislation—for many other precepts were issued before it by God—but, in point of importance and dignity, “is like to this.” He does not say, equal to it; but, like to it in its object, which is, love; in point of dignity; in its mode of accomplishment; in its comprehensiveness, being a practical compendium of the precepts of the second table of the law, as the love of God, with our whole heart, is of those of the first. Our Redeemer answers more than He was questioned about. He not only tells what is “the great commandment,” but, in order to deliver the entire doctrine, in a brief form, regarding the greatest commandments, one of which depended on the other, one of which cannot be observed without observing the other; and, moreover, in order to show them, that they could not rest satisfied with loving God, and indulge in excessive love of self, while, at the same time, they neglected their neighbour—He thus meant to cure their inordinate self-love—nay, to show the grievousness of the hatred they bore His own Divine person, He adds, what is the next commandment in point of dignity As in the foregoing precept, of loving God, He points out two things as requisite, viz., the love of God, and its mode (ex toto corde, &c.), so, also, in this, which is found in Leviticus (19:18), He prescribes the love of our neighbour; and again, its mode, viz., as we love ourselves. He does not command us to love him as much as we love ourselves, or to the same degree, but, in the same manner. St. Thomas (2da 2dæ Quest. 44, Art. 7) says, this mode is, to love him, sancte, that is, for God’s sake, as we ought to love ourselves for God’s sake; juste, that is, we ought to love him in what is good, not loving him in reference to evil things; vere, for our neighbour’s sake, and not for our own. The mode of loving our neighbour “as ourselves,” may be said to consist in this, that, as we love ourselves, following the dictates and judgment of right reason, in such a way as to wish for all that would really promote our good, and tend to our final happiness, and would wish to remove from ourselves, and avert the evils that would obstruct these ends and objects; so, in like manner, we should also wish to promote our neighbour’s good, and avert from him the evils that would really injure him, and obstruct his present natural enjoyment and future happiness. This is clearly expressed in a positive form by our Redeemer (Matt. 7:12), “all things whatsoever you would that men would do to you,” &c. In this He explains, in what the precept of loving our neighbour consists, “For this is the Law and the Prophets.” Similar are His words here (verse 40), “On these two commandments dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets.” Similar are the words of St. Paul (Rom. 13:8). The same precept of loving our neighbour, or rather, the mode of its fulfilment, is conveyed in a negative form by Tobias (Tob 4:16), “See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another.”

It is supposed here by our Redeemer, that our love of ourselves is within due bounds, not excessive, nor tending to objects which might be unlawful or finally ruinous; for, He first supposes we love God as we ought, in which love of God is contained the love of ourselves. This latter, our Redeemer does not here prescribe, but pre-supposes. For, if we love not God, or love ourselves otherwise than for God, we hate ourselves; as it is, on the other hand, in the love of Him that the greatest and most perfect love of ourselves consists. Hence, our Redeemer calls the love of our neighbour the “second,” and not the third, commandment; since, the love of ourselves, which He supposes, is contained in the love of God. The inordinate, excessive love of ourselves, is guarded against in the first precept, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God,” &c. In this the proper love of ourselves, which is the model of the love of our neighbour, is supposed. As the words, “thou shalt love,” &c., in the precept, relating to God, implies, not merely acts of love at times, and habitual feelings of love at all times, with the exclusion of all feelings opposed to this love; but also, its practical manifestation by good works; so the same applies to the words, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” &c. They convey to us, that we are not merely to elicit acts of love of our neighbour at times, and entertain habitual feelings of love for him at all times, exclusive of hatred or any feelings opposed to the love of him; but also, that we should practically manifest the sincerity of this love in our actions, since it is thus we love ourselves. We should endeavour to promote whatever advances his temporal or spiritual interests, and remove whatever would obstruct them. As the love of God is shown by keeping the Commandments; so, is the love of our neighbour tested and manifested by works—“Let us love, not in word or in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

In a word, the love of our neighbour, like unto that which we bear ourselves, should be such, that we would do, in his regard, whatever we should reasonably expect to be done to us, and treat him as we would reasonably expect to be treated by him, in the same circumstances.

Mat 22:40  On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets. 

“On these two commandments dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets.” By “the Law and the Prophets,” are meant, the contents of the entire Old Testament. The Jews understood, by “the Law,” the Books of Moses, and by “the Prophets,” all the other books, viz., Kings, Paralipomenon, Psalms, &c. The meaning of the words is, that in these two precepts, of loving God and our neighbour, are contained, summarily, as conclusions in principles or in their premises, all the precepts given by God to man, which are briefly summed up in the Decalogue. These two precepts are the epitome, and brief compendious summary, of the whole Scriptures, of all the other precepts of God, whether positive or negative. The precepts regarding God are contained in the love of God; hence, to this the first three precepts of the Decalogue, contained in the first table of the Commandments, have reference. The precepts regarding our neighbour, whether positive or negative, are contained in loving our neighbour as ourselves. To it the several precepts of the second table of the Decalogue have reference. Hence, St. Paul says on this subject, that “love (of our neighbour) is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rom. 13:10).

On these two precepts all the others “depend.” They hang from them, as branches from the main trunk of a tree. All the works of mercy, and the precepts of the other virtues, natural and supernatural, are referred to these two precepts, of the love of God and our neighbour. The precepts of faith, hope, charity, and religion, are contained in the precept of the love of God. The precepts of justice, truth, fidelity, mercy, gratitude, &c., are contained in the precept of the love of our neighbour (A. Lapide). Our Redeemer here intimates to us, that we should always keep these precepts before our eyes, and that to them we should refer, and by them regulate and guide all our thoughts, words, and actions. In Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5–9), the same is expressly enjoined in reference to the great precept of loving God.

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