The 25th Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 26A (11/2/2008)
The Gift of Love
Lessons: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 Psalm 1 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Saint Matthew 22:34-46 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, you are the holy lawgiver, you are the salvation of your people. By your Spirit renew us in your covenant of love, and train us to care tenderly for all our neighbors, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
22:34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ‘? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
St. Matthew 22:34-46, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
These past weeks we have been reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, and observing a rather contentious conversation between Jesus and the religious insiders of his day. They continually ask him questions, intended to trap him in his words, and to cause him to lose credibility among the people. He continually responds in ways that both surprise them and offer them a unexpected answers to their questions. In this week’s Gospel, this conversation reaches its climax, and as the text draws to a close, so does their conversation.
First Century Jewish people were quite familiar with the laws of their tradition. These laws found their beginning in the Ten Commandments, but went on to include over six hundred separate laws identified in the first five books of the Bible, and countless laws created over the years to help the people of Israel stay faithful. These laws were of great importance to the people of Jesus’ time, and did much to define who they were, and how they lived.
Jesus’ detractors were well aware of that, and proposed a question to him that was designed to set him up. As they asked which law was the most important, they surely had their responses well rehearsed. No matter which law he chose, they had good, solid, theological reasons why he was wrong. If they could force him to choose from among all those laws, they could win the victory they so earnestly wanted.
Once again, however, Jesus did an end run around their question. Which law was the greatest? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And a second is like the first: love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ opponents were trying to define the life of faith with rules and regulations. But Jesus taught them what they should have known in the first place. All of those laws were designed to accomplish the same result: that believers’ lives be rooted in a holy love that is directed towards God, and towards one another.
It is that holy love, of course, which the church seeks to nurture in our lives. And as we allow love for God and neighbor to stand at the center of who we are, we will find one more thing to be true: we will experience life as a blessing. A far more powerful and long-lasting blessing than anything else can create. May that blessing touch and fill our lives, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
David J. Risendal
Exploring This Week's Text:
- Why were the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trap Jesus?
- How did their world-view differ from his?
- How does a life centered in love make a difference in other people’s lives?
Connecting with This Week's Text:
- When have I enjoyed the blessing of having love for God or neighbor?
- How does a love-based life differ from a rules-based life?
- How can I work with my congregation and my family, to give love an even more central role?