In Matthew 22 and 23, Jesus continued his lament towards the religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes). They continued to question Jesus in order to test his knowledge of the law and scriptures. Each time they posed a question, hoping to catch him in an error, he answered and often outwitted them. He silenced the Sadducees when they tried to question him about the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees decided to test him on the commandments and asked him which commandment was the greatest. His response was, that loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is the greatest commandment.
“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40). What Jesus was saying to the religious leaders, was that without love, their religion was useless. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
Jesus was angry that the Pharisees maintained an outward appearance of holiness, but inwardly they did not care about the needs of people. Paul also spoke on the subject of love to the Corinthians. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Paul’s view was that no amount of prophecy, understanding of mysteries, great faith for miracles or charity can replace the need for love. The characteristics of love are patience, kindness, humility and tolerance.
Some people are truly hard to love and it is difficult to love someone who continues to hurt your feelings. This is where the grace of God comes in and enables us to do what is difficult. Love does not mean that you have to be close to everyone and setting boundaries to protect yourself is sensible. Love is being able to pray sincerely, for the person who hurt your feelings. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he prayed for his persecutors and asked God to forgive them.
This was while they were in the very act of crucifying him. If love was easy, then God would not have made it a commandment. Pray for the strength to love, because it is impossible to harbour bitterness and resentment, towards someone who you are praying for. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).