Matthew 22:34-40 “When the Pharisees heard that he
had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer,
asked hi a question to test him. ‘Teacher,
which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 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. This is the greatest and
first commandment. And a second is
like it: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. On these two
commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”
Ten Commandments were vitally important to Israel. They formed the basis of the Covenant and became the
foundation of Israel’s first legal code.
At Sinai a bunch of ragtag runaway slaves became…if you’ll forgive the
phrase…One nation, under God.
we have looked at each of those ten commandments,
we’ve seen a progression. The
beginning commandments taught us about our relationship with God. To put God first, not to limit God by
carving God’s image into stone—either literal stone or ideological
stone—and to be careful how we use God’s name. From there we began to move from the relationship with God
to the relationship we have with others.
is the relationship we have with ourselves. We are to rest—to remember the Sabbath and show that
we recognize that we are not the ones in charge of the world. That rest is for us
and all the extensions of us…family, employees, even animals.
our relationship with God and ourselves stable, we move on to our relationships
with others and concrete actions concerning them. We are not to kill them or to steal their spouse or property. And then the last two commandments turn
our attention inward, to watch the attitudes of our hearts that can lead to
destructive action. We’re not to
lie or slander others and we are to work to be content with what we have,
rather than coveting the possessions, family, or success of others.
so it sits for about 1500 years.
The law gets more elaborate as people naturally start to ask…well, when
is it we can’t kill, exactly? Just
what constitutes the work we can’t do on the Sabbath—it can be pretty
exhausting to walk to the next town for a visit—and so forth. By the time Jesus comes along, there
are entire career paths devoted to the ins and outs of keeping the law of Moses.
The Pharisees and the Scribes are two of them.
the Pharisees and Scribes are beginning to get a bit worried that Jesus may be
undermining their careers by teaching that the legal code has developed some
flaws and therefore refusing to obey some of it. So they come to Jesus with a very pointed legal
question. Which commandment is the
ask for one, and Jesus gives them two—neither of which comes from the Ten
Commandments. The first is from
Deuteronomy 6:4…to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and
strength. The second is from
Leviticus 19:18…to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus says that all of the law and the prophets can be
summed up in those two commands.
don’t come directly from the Ten Commandments, but…as Jesus said…they do
provide a nice summary of them. As
we’ve just seen, the love of God, self, and neighbor is exactly what the Ten
Commandments are trying to illustrate.
problem that Jesus was having with the Law as it was lived in the first century
was that the Law itself had become the occasion of breaking the first of the
Ten Commandments. You shall have
no other gods before me. No
idols. Well, the law and all its
myriad details had become more important than God. It was an idol carved in stone. Jesus kept trying to point that out—trying to say that
the law was merely meant to represent what the underlying attitudes of justice,
mercy, and love looked like in a given instance. But each case has to be judged on its merits. It’s about the spirit of the law, not
the letter of the law.
you’re really hungry and have no food, you can pick corn on the Sabbath. Yes, if a person is suffering, you can
help them on the Sabbath. No, you are not relieved of the responsibility of
supporting your elderly parents by giving your money to the church
instead. If a woman is caught in
the act of adultery, you can show mercy instead of automatically stoning her as the law requires. (I still want to know, if she was caught in the act of
adultery, why they only brought her and not the man!)
answer to the Scribes and the Pharisees is meant to bring them back from a
focus on the letter of the law to the spirit that created it in the first
place. Love God with all you’ve
got, and keep the love of self and the love of neighbor in balance. It is the power of that love that
should guide our decisions. And if
we did that, there would be no need for mountains of laws to define what is allowed
for in every possible circumstance.
The law of love allows law to live and breathe like the God it is
supposed to represent.
The law of
Moses, which primarily spelled out what people shouldn’t do, and the words of
the prophets, which on page after page of the Bible call out for pro-active
works of justice and mercy are summed up, Jesus says in the commands to love
God and your neighbor as yourself.
Gospel of John, as Jesus is instructing his disciples at the last supper, he
gives the great commandment a bit of a different twist. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus
says, just after Judas has left the room to betray him, “that you love one
another. Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love
for one another.”
it’s not really a new commandment.
Love one another and love your neighbor as
yourself are pretty similar. What
Jesus adds here is the answer to an obvious question. Remember when the Great Commandment about loving the
neighbor is quoted to one of the Scribes, he famously asks for
clarification. Well, who is my
neighbor? The parable of the Good Samaritan
follows. So when Jesus gives a
command to love one another, it’s natural that somebody is going to ask…well,
how do you do that exactly? What
does love entail?
think, is exactly the question that God was trying to answer by living a human
life in Jesus. And Jesus confirms
that. Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
Loving one another doesn’t mean running barefoot through flowers into
each others arms. It means living life the way Jesus did, expressing love in
ways that were obvious and subtle.
The love of
Jesus for his disciples included compassionate healing and patient
teaching—even when the disciples were so being so dense that Jesus would
cry out in frustration. It
included letting the disciples struggle and even fail as they learned to be
faithful. Jesus took them into
uncomfortable situations—even into Samaria, the heartland of their
greatest enemy—to show how to love those they were taught to hate. Jesus provided food when they had none,
courage when theirs failed, and forgiveness even when they denied him in his
hour of greatest need. And he tied
a towel around his waist and washed their feet like a servant.
“Just as I
have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you
have love for one another.” That,
of course, was also the purpose of the Ten Commandments. Keeping God’s law was not just a way to
keep order in society. It was a
form of witness—a way to proclaim to the world the nature of the God who
held their ultimate allegiance.
not changed, as Jesus shows… “By this everyone will know that you are my
disciples.” Being a disciple of
Jesus is not proven in the voting booth.
It is not proven by the number of Sundays we show up at church or the
dollar amount of our offerings. It
is not proven when we recite the creed or profess that Jesus is our Lord and
Savior. The way that the world
will know that it is Jesus whom we follow is by our love. Love for God, love for ourselves, love for our neighbor, and even love for our
fail in love, we have taken God’s name in vain, because as 1 John 4:8 tells us
quite simply, “God is love.” For
us to take God’s name on ourselves as Christians and identify God’s behavior
with things that are not loving is blasphemy. We are called to show in our lives the
love of God. That is our
witness. We are not called to
corner people and make them profess a certain doctrine of the atonement. We are not called to have God all
figured out and be able to predict who goes to heaven and who doesn’t.
called to tie a towel around our waists and serve. We are called to walk together into the heartland of the
enemy and show compassion. We are
called to heal and teach and sometimes to let a loved one struggle to find their own strength.
We are called to forgive and to share a meal even with the one who
betrays us. That’s what love does,
and we know that because that’s what Jesus did. He says that if we do that, we are keeping all of the
commandments of the law and all the dictates of the prophets. That’s why he said he came not to
abolish the law but to fulfill it.
Moses wrote it, Jesus lived it.
And, if we want to be His disciples, we are called to live it, too. Amen.
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