After the silencing of the Sadducees, one of the Pharisees, who was said to be “an expert in religious law” (Matthew 22:35b), posed a question to Jesus. The language used by Matthew, which is that the purpose of the question was “to test Him” (22:36c), informs the audience that this encounter was to be understood as a rabbinic debate, which would have an honor and shame dynamic at play. This is fitting, since one of the greatest sources of honor in that day would have been a connection to the Temple, and with His words and actions, Jesus is in the process of shaming the Temple and those connected to it. If they are able to overcome Jesus in a rabbinic challenge, thus diminishing His honor standing in the court of public reputation and opinion, then they can also diminish the effectiveness of His words and actions against the Temple, thus recovering (on behalf of the Temple and themselves) the honor that Jesus is accruing to Himself at the expense of the Temple and its functionaries.
Thus Jesus’ opinion in regards to the greatest commandment of the law is elicited. With His answer, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy and from Leviticus, responding with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (22:39). Summing up His response, Jesus adds “All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (22:40). The modern reader should be quite familiar with these words of Jesus, as were the respective audiences of both Jesus and Matthew. Remembering that the Temple and His judgment upon it lies in the background of both His words and the narrative that records His words and deeds, and considering that singular quotations of Scripture are designed to call to mind large sections of the Scriptural narrative (and by extension, Israel’s history), one is forced to look at the context for Jesus’ Scriptural quotations. In doing so, one finds that these quotes fit within the overall movement of Matthew and of this section of the story he tells.
Prior to His triumphal entry, in multiple parables, Jesus is shown to be speaking about the kingdom of heaven (God). Talk of the kingdom of heaven fits together with thoughts about the restoration of the promised land of Israel, which would manifest itself in the independence of people and land from the rule of foreign and pagan nations. Jesus’ triumphal entry aligns with such talk. Jesus’ continued speech about the kingdom of heaven, in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two following His judgment upon the Temple (which then cannot be disconnected from that which follows), fits neatly with what has been previously heard from Jesus and presented by Matthew. So when Jesus is heard speaking about love of the Creator God with heart, soul, and mind, and His hearers have their thoughts thrust upon the pages of Deuteronomy, disappointment would be at hand if one did not find concerns within the same vein (that being the kingdom of heaven and liberation) being voiced. Naturally, these expectations are not disappointed.
The words quoted by Jesus are prefaced and followed by statements such as “Walk just as He has commanded you so that you may live, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land you are going to possess” (5:33); “Now these are the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord your God has instructed me to teach you so that you may carry them out in the land where you are headed… as the Lord, God of your ancestors, said to you, you will have a land flowing with milk and honey” (6:1,3b); “Then when the Lord your God brings you the land He promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you” (6:10a); “for the Lord your God, who is present among you,” which is a Temple/tabernacle reference---the place the Lord dwells, “is a jealous God and His anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land” (6:15); “Do whatever is proper and good before the Lord so that it may go well with you and that you may enter and occupy the good land that He promised to your ancestors” (6:18); “He delivered us… so that He could give us the land He had promised our ancestors” (6:23); and “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy” (7:1a).