SERMON 10-23-11 Pentecost 19A
In today’s Gospel, the religious leaders were confronting Our Lord and testing him with a simple question, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest.” Now the lawyer and other Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to name just one as the greatest, but what is interesting to note, is that in Torah there were over 600 commands. There is much more going on here than a mere friendly inquiry among fellow teachers. The leaders were trying to discredit Jesus, to undermine his teaching so that others might doubt his identity. Now this is not the first time folks have misconstrued Our Lord’s teaching.
Throughout the ages, followers of Jesus have interpreted Our Lord’s teaching in ways that were inconsistent with the same. For example, the church over time has participated in atrocities such as the Crusades and the Inquisition, because of misguided interpretation of the teachings of the faith. Within just the past 50 years, followers of Jesus have in some instances turned a blind eye or participated in the perpetuation of violence, poverty and war. Even the church has in some instances missed the whole point of what is meant by “the two commandments (on which) hang all the law and the prophets.”
The great commandments Jesus revealed as a result of the lawyer’s inquiry may seem simple, but it is not a watered down version of the law. No, Jesus makes it clear that loving God and loving neighbor is a standard upon which we should measure the fruits of our lives. Following Jesus requires us not to merely live under some minimum standard of legalistic behavior, but discipleship demands that we embrace fully our ultimate reality as children of God. The law as it was, became for some a lifelong pursuit, which through its adherence, some sisters and brothers were left in dire circumstances.
Jesus taught us that the intent of the law was not to leave others with withered hands, blind folks with no hope, lame folks without restoration, and sinners without the grace and mercy of God . In other words, the law itself was empty without love. Jesus turned things upside down when he declared that mere acts of obedience to God’s law is insufficient. Loveless law denies our place within God’s creation and attempts to convince us that we are an island unto ourselves. The great commandment affirms that we are individually and corporately bound together sister and brother under the fatherhood of God. The great command denies that we have the option to choose whom it is we call neighbor.
If we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind , we must love those for whom God in Christ died to save. Here we find the qualifier for who our neighbor might be. Just look around you. Yes, there is your neighbor but wait, do not stop there. We must widen our horizon and include a wider circle of people. No, it does not end with merely family, the man or woman next door, or business of social contacts. Wait you may say, you cannot mean that Jesus is saying that a homeless person, an illegal alien, an enemy, that family member whom I do not like, that politician, that (fill in the blank) is really my neighbor? You guessed it and loving those who are hard to love is not easy.
So, where do we begin? We pray for one another. We pray for those we find hard to love. We ask God to give us the strength, courage, and desire to seek God’s best for the other. Prayer takes us out of our self and aligns us with the heart of God. Prayer changes things, because prayer changes us. I witnessed a gathering recently in which over 300 people joined hands and together with one mind, one heart, one spirit, joining with the heart of God, shared the sadness and pain of a very dear brother. Hands joined, hearts open, voices lifted up we were one body; sisters, brothers, neighbors all. When we through our common intercessions and thanksgivings acknowledge our sisters and brothers’ suffering, we share their suffering with them. It is in our the unity of our weakness that we acknowledge our utter dependence on God. It is then and only then, that we can love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. It is then that we can love our neighbor as our self.