The Pharisees and Sadducees, experts in the law, engaged in controversies with Jesus. They tested his interpretation of tradition and tried to corner him with their questions. They had unsuccessfully challenged him with questions about paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22) and about the resurrection (22:23-33). The crowds heard about Jesus outwitting the religious leaders in these controversies. Jesus’ abilities as a teacher impressed the crowds, but the religious leaders did not give up. Their attempts to trap Jesus only revealed their inferiority to him as a teacher and their viciousness in opposing him. They called him “Teacher” (22:36) but did not regard him with respect.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees when they tested him with a question about interpretation of the law, the Pharisees conspired against Jesus. One among them, a lawyer presumably familiar with all the laws, asked Jesus which commandment in the law is the greatest. Rather than answering the question by ranking the commandments, Jesus provided insight into the law as a whole. He summarized the heart of the law. He said that all the commandment hang on that core: to love God and neighbor. Jesus said the commandment to love God is the greatest and first. He made the commandment to love our neighbor a sort of second but equal commandment when he sad that the law and the prophets hang on both these commandments.
Jesus draws on the tradition and, at the same time, challenges those who bear it. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a legalistic notion of right and wrong, of obedience and faithfulness. When considering the importance of various rules, laws, and ethical principles. Jesus’ standard is not to weigh one against another. Rather, one should see all laws in the light of these great commandments to love God and neighbor.