Jesus our Teacher: The Greatest Commandment

[Updated on November 6]


We learn a lot of things from the ministry of Jesus. Sometimes it is difficult to know exactly what a particular story or command means. In our text for Sunday, Jesus says that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord God with all of our heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.” What a huge command! This command is first given in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6). In fact, when this command is given, God says that the command should be on our hearts which might be one way of saying that it should be so much apart of us that it is inseparable from our identity. Before Jesus and in all of Christian history since Jesus, we have been trying to figure out how to adequately respond to God’s love by loving God, neighbor, and our own selves.

What do these two commandments mean? If we follow them, will our ability to follow the others fall into place? Is it possible for us to follow these two laws, or are they completely out of our reach? Does something about Jesus make it possible for us to follow these laws? What? Do these laws have something to say to the church?

In Luke, the story of Jesus giving the greatest commandment is followed by Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells this story in response to the question, “who is my neighbor?” A story is supposed to help us think about what this command might look like when it is practiced. In younger classes, it may be helpful to explore this parable as a description of what it means to love the neighbor.

Learning Objectives

(1.) Children will be able to say the Greatest Commandment in their own words

(2.) Older children will memorize the words of Jesus

(3.) Children will make connections between Jesus giving of the law and the way that Jesus elaborates it in parable of the good Samaritan

Gather: While students gather, you may want to have a coloring activity prepared for them. For older students, a quiet game may be appropriate.

Hear the Word: Read the story of Jesus’ debate with the lawyer, in which he gives the two greatest commandments. In addition to reading the story from Luke, you can also read the story from the Children of God Storybook Bible  (in the resource cabinet) under the title “God gives us the Great Commandment: The Law of Love” on page 82. You may even want to invite one of your students to read from the storybook Bible. This week there are two options. You can focus on Jesus giving the greatest commandment, or the story Jesus follows this command with, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Before you move to responding to the word, have a conversation about the content of Sunday School lessons over the past month. By way of review, we have talked about the Beatitudes, The Lord’s Prayer, and some Jesus’ miracles–calming the stormy sea and feeding the 5,000–and today’s lesson, the Greatest Commandment.  Ask your students to share one thing they have learned about Jesus. What does Jesus show us about love of God, neighbor, and ourselves in these stories? This conversation will help facilitate connections between all of the stories we have explored up to this point.

Respond to the Word:

(1.) Brainstorming: What does it mean to love God? We spend a lot of time thinking about how we might glorify God in the Church’s worship and in our lives. How can we live and worship in ways that show we love God? Put three large poster-size papers on the wall (or three columns on a white board). On the top of each paper write one of the following phrases: “Loving God,” “loving our neighbor” and “loving ourselves.” Ask you class to think about all of the ways they express love. Let the students help one another expand their understanding of acts of love. Does love of the neighbor mean service or care of the neighbor? What might that look like? Does love entail prayer for the neighbor? Who can we pray for that we might not have thought about?

If the conversation is going well, you may want to ask students to share behaviors that are not loving toward God, the neighbor, or ourselves.

(2.) Praying in Color (for older students): If you are interested in exploring a new form of prayer with the students in your class, praying in color is an option that some students may find helpful.  Pass out paper with “God,” “Neighbor” (or the name of a neighbor), and “self” written in black pen. Ask your students to calm themselves. They may want to close their eyes or breathe deeply. Once all are calm, read through the story of Jesus giving the Greatest Commandment from Luke. Invite students to color around each of the names/words while praying about God (Who are you God? How can I better love you, God? How do I know that you love me?), the neighbor (Who have I forgotten about or failed to love? Is there someone I need to learn to love better? What can I do to love them?), or self (Do I love myself? How do I treat myself and my body?). You can use some of the questions I have provided to help prompt prayers.

When your time of silence and prayer is finished, you can ask students to reflect on the experience together. Was there anything you thought about loving God, neighbor, or yourself that you never thought of before? Were their particular stories from Scripture or your own experience that came to mind as you were coloring and praying? Is prayer a good way to show love of God, neighbor, and self? Why or why not?

If you are interested in this form of prayer, I can drop Sybil MacBeth’s book Praying in Color Kid’s Edition in your classroom. Directions for prayer (similar to what I have given here) begin on page 17.

(3.) The Greatest Commandment craft: If you would like to do a craft with your students, try this one. Encourage students to hang the commandments up in a place where they can see them everyday or read them with their parents at night so that they can remember it.  When you finish this craft pray a simple prayer: “God, help us to have your commandments written on our heart so that we can learn to love you, our neighbors, and ourselves. Popsicle sticks, paper, and other art supplies are available in the Christian Ed. Supply closet.

(4.) Paper People Chain: Make a paper people chain using these directions and this template. Older students may be able to cut out the people chain by themselves. Ask students to work together to come up with a list of “neighbors” they can pray for and learn to love. Write the name of each person/location on one of the paper people (examples: Amy, Milo, the people of Syria, etc.). Challenge students to identify people they do not get along with or do not always think of as neighbors (maybe they even think of them as enemies).

(5.) Loving God through Movement: There are a lot of different ways that Christians praise and love God. One of them is by using our bodies in ways that glorify God. Ask your students to choreograph a series of movements that show they love God with their heart, mind, soul and body. For older children, this is a good opportunity to talk about how liturgical movement and sacred space are set aside to help us love God. Students may even have ideas of what some of those particular movements are.

(6.) Good Samaritan Game: If you are interested in going outside, this game would be great with a lot of space.

(7.) Act out the story: Choose a narrator (Jesus) to read the story of the Good Samaritan as the rest of the class acts out the story. You can put students in groups of four and have several groups go at the same time while using the same narrator. In each group of four assign each person a character. When you have finished, ask students what they might have done. Do you think you would pass by on the other side? Would you stop and help? Why or why not? Are there people we pass by everyday? How can we learn to love people who are ignored? How can we come to see them as a neighbor?

(8.) Learn by Heart Activity sheets: You can use these two activity sheets (1, 2) to help students memorize the Greatest Commandment.

Close in the Prayer


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