It was only natural for Jesus to be prepared for the question, after all the Pharisees and Jewish elite were lying in wait and trying to trap him. Hadn’t he already been rightfully accused of breaking Jewish laws? He preached and healed on the Sabbath; he defied the purity and dietary codes; consorted with women, some of questionable reputation, in public and was pretty free with his use of God’s good name. The Pharisees accused him of blasphemy when he forgave sins. So the deck was already stacked against him when he was put to the test as to which is the greatest commandment. I have to think that Jesus was well prepared for the answer.
In (Matthew 22:34-46) he summed up the first five commandments in one great commandment, “love God with all your heart, soul and mind.” And covered the next 5 in the second, “love your neighbor as yourself.” In a way, Jesus is saying the Ten Commandments, (the Decalogue), is one commandment and he is saying that no rule, no piety, no custom, no tradition, is more important than loving God completely. God is love and is omnipresent and cannot be contained by and in any man made law, culture or tradition.
While Jesus offers up the two Greatest Commandments as his answer, he is not contravening Moses or the prophets. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews 1: 1-2, that in the past God spoke through our forefathers through the prophets at many times in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. How is it different? Jesus preached the power of love as opposed to the love of power. Rules at a specific time and place may serve a purpose, rules for rules sake are a means to exert control and satisfy the agendas of the so-called ruling class.
Progression is not the same as contradiction. An artist begins by making a sketch and applies his tools to the canvas bit by bit until the whole picture (apparent to his mind from the start, though not to the beholder’s) finally emerges. And parents teach children rule upon rule until they are capable of making decisions for themselves. In time, as children mature into adults, they are capable of understanding why these rules were important in their developmental years, when in fact, their brain was not fully developed. Wisdom emerges through experience, and the mature mind is capable of making those rules a part of its being and “moral compass.” They are internalized and become who we are.
“And yet the arguments over whose Law is greatest become mired in the deep darkness of struggles for power. At the Vatican, the Pope himself has been denied, by his own Cardinals, the tender words of mercy he sought to extend, on behalf of his church, to those who have been made scapegoats in the righteousness games that too many clergy – and laity – piously play. If you are simply dispensing information, (and Jesus said to the lawyer questioning him, and the Pope is saying to the College of Cardinals) your days are numbered. (Laws, history, learning as a product) can be codified, recorded, and dispensed. A seedbed is a different matter. It is baptism into a mystery – an experience of God – a relationship with God and those who have been touched by the Divine. Mystery is not something that is simply learned, it is absorbed and the few that choose to offer that gift have a future. For those that don’t offer that mystery, there isn’t one.” (Frederick Schmidt, Patheos on October 17, 2014.).
“The Bible begins with the creation of the universe and ends with the re-creation of the universe. It goes on at its beginning to describe the fall of man in a garden and paradise lost; it concludes in a garden with paradise regained…For at last God’s kingdom has been consummated. All creation is subject to him. And the blessings of our final inheritance will be due to his perfect rule.” (John Stott, Understanding the Bible, p 152)