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The Second Greatest Commandment

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

The Jewish people have three things that help them remember the most important commandment to love God. They are the Shema, phylacteries and mezuzahs. I wrote about the Scripture passages contained in the Shema liturgy, and in in the phylacteries and mezuzahs in Not Just a Jewish Belief. And I just noticed something. The second greatest commandment is not located in any of those things.

The Shema is the Jewish confession of faith. The complete Jewish "Shema" in their liturgy consists of three sections:

  1. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - what we typically think of as the Shema. It tells us the LORD is one, to love the LORD, to teach these commandments to our children, to keep them in view, and to write them on our doorposts and gates.

  2. Deuteronomy 11:13-21 - pretty much reiterates Deuteronomy 6:4-9

  3. Numbers 15:37-41 - to have a reminder that has us remember all the commandments of the LORD and to obey them.

Phylacteries are the leather boxes that pious Jews will wear on their foreheads and left hands. They contain four Scripture passages:

  1. Exodus 13:1-10 - observing Passover and tell your children what the LORD has done, a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead.

  2. Exodus 13:11-16 - being devoted to the LORD and talking to your children about remembering what the LORD has done, a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead.

  3. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - see above

  4. Deuteronomy 11:13-21 - see above

A mezuzah is a decorative container which is attached to the doorframe of your home. It contains a scroll inside of it that has two Scripture passages on it - 1. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 2. Deuteronomy 11:13-21.

The purpose of these things are to remind the Jews of the greatest commandment to love the LORD.

Of course there is a connection between the Shema Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and what Jesus tells us is the greatest commandment which is to love the LORD. See Matthew 22:37-40 or Mark 12:29-31 or Luke 10:27.

But in those passages Jesus also tells us what the second greatest commandment is. The second greatest commandment is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This comes from Leviticus 19:18.

'..., but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.'

Jesus tells us, "There is no other commandment greater than these." (to love the LORD with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor.)

Of course the next question we ask is, "Who is my neighbor?"

It is interesting that in Luke's account the scribe asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" and Jesus goes into the parable of The Good Samaritan. A man was stripped, beaten and left half dead. A priest passes and does not help. Then a Levite passes and he does not help. But a Samaritan, a despised foreigner helps the man. Who was the good neighbor? "The one who showed mercy toward him." And in Luke 10:37 Jesus tells them, "Go and do the same." That is a directive to us too. Talk about applicability!

My mind immediately goes to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 where Jesus says over and over "you have heard that..." and follows that by "but I say to you..." The religious people knew the Law. Jesus did not come to do away with the Law. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, but also to bring it to a deeper meaning, a greater obedience.

Given a situation where someone else is in need we have choices. We can choose not to help them which is what the priest and Levite did in the account of the Good Samaritan. Or we can choose to show mercy towards another. This is the option Jesus wants us to choose.

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus was talking about not doing the bare minimum. We shouldn't just obey to obey. We obey out of the love that pours out of our hearts. Remember who was the good neighbor.

The Jews focus on loving God and obeying His commands. They have the command to love their neighbors, but yet that command is not found in three important things of their faith - the Shema, phylacteries and mezuzahs.

Jesus clearly puts in our minds and to a deeper understanding that there are two commands we are to remember as the most important. Christ-followers should focus on loving God and loving others.

When we have mercy on others, we are modeling Christ.

When we love others as ourselves, we are being obedient.

Love God. Love others. Imagine what the world would be like if we actually did it!

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