Proper 25A/Lect. 30A, October 23, 2011 – PLC, Matthew 22:34-46
‘About the Law’ – concentrating on the first half of our reading.
Jesus is at the end of his dialogues with his opponents – they have challenged him on all points of law and theology – shall we pay taxes to the emperor, who shall be married in the afterlife, what will be the place of the nation of Israel in God’s great plans. Jesus has answered with wit and wisdom and power – and astonished the crowds, and convinced those in power that he must be silenced.
By pulling together these two great scriptures from the Old Testament (Deut. and Leviticus) Jesus holds together two strands of law into one great whole of Love. Love God and Love Neighbor. He is not the first and will not be the last great teacher to do this. We hear similar exhortations from many, many traditions. So much that we think – ahh, the Golden Rule. Jesus does state it, earlier in Matthew 7 – do unto others as you would have them do to you.
My mother used to pull the Golden Rule on us. I’m sure she felt it was the best way to get some semblance of order in our big and let us say, personally diverse clan. I am between two brothers – Jimmy – 18 months older than I, and Peter, who is 3 years younger. When we were in elementary school we would get into battles – and sometimes my mother would come upon us and pull us apart – usually I was on the bottom of the pile, because they would gang upon me. “You know the Golden Rule – do unto others . . . Would you like it if Nancy hit you.” Jimmy would answer - “I can take it – so should she.”
That’s the great downfall of the Golden Rule by itself – it is really based on what one can endure, on what is expedient, on what is acceptable, what I can imagine. Its basis is loving the self – and self love can lack imagination. Self love can wear blinders. Jesus wants us to go farther – to think about the other person as a creation of God, beloved by God.
Look at the order of what Jesus says – and that will tell us all. The First commandment, and the greatest – is to Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love God with all the parts of you that are in the image of God. Love God with all the intellect, emotions and will you have. The word ‘love’ here is that wonderful scriptural concept of ‘agape’ – which combines affection and attention, will and action, adoration and trust.
Understand the "love" that is being called for is not emotion; it is not "liking," "getting along with," "desiring," or "feeling warm about." The "love" Jesus is talking about here is trust, loyalty, enduring devotion, being attached to. You may actually hate your neighbor, but you will still love them in the Biblical sense if you continue to act for their well-being, don't tell lies about them, and refuse to cut off your relationship with them.
Jesus goes beyond the Golden Rule when he connects it with Loving God – loving your neighbor (which can be hard, indeed) is the response to turning to God with your all. The Golden Rule is not enough, he says. First, one turns upward – acknowledging that self – which the Golden Rule depends upon – is created, loved, guided and judged by the Almighty.
In some ways he is speaking past his immediate hearers, to all those, who like us – find ourselves without law, without clear direction, without clear answers on how do we behave, how do we act, how do we love?
Loving your neighbor is good, but not enough. Jesus suggests that without love of God – a person cannot fully love their fellow human being. Turning toward God is primary – is the bedrock of any ethics, any morals, any choices made.
I said earlier that Jesus pulls together two strands – Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, but he slips in a third thread – at the end there – ‘on these hang all the law and the prophets.’ Yes, there are other laws besides the Law of loving God, the law of loving neighbor. There are particular rules established for good order, for care of each other, for protection. Now, In today’s world, we like to think anything goes – that love not only conquers all, love excuses all. Love excuses all sorts of bad behavior and injury to others. Listen to Jesus – he’s not going there. Three strands, not just two.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself and on that hangs all the law and the prophets – he does not say that by those two commandments all the law is dismissed, dissolved and moot.
The law of old – the law Jesus knew very well – was a law code that pointed out answers to questions of everyday life – what to wear, what to eat, etc. It seems strange to us, liberated as we are – that these things would ever be commanded. But remember – ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’ – on these two great commandments – hang all the decisions that we will make. We don’t have 613 little laws – but we do have the same issues of how we live, what choices we make, what elements of our environment become important.
For us today – it’s not about 613 individual prescriptions – but it is about a call to think about our lives and our choices with deliberation and concern for others.
You will hear and read much in the weeks and months to come, from your church leadership, and from people who are engaged in programs here at Peace Lutheran about ways you can act in love toward your neighbor. Some of the ways will be giving ways – giving financially to support our church budget – and giving out of special love for projects that are unique – our new doors, mailing off those Christmas child boxes, helping the Teachers Closet or K-Force. Love your neighbor through working with children at Sunday School or K-Force, through serving on your church leadership, through offering to God your voice at worship or on a service committee.
Some of you may think, in your heart, why doesn’t the church let us be – why do they ask so much? My walk with God is private, personal and not for anyone else to judge. And that is true, but as we are motivated by these words of Jesus – Love God, Love Neighbor, and with those two statements in mind - Think about your life – where else will you be as welcome to express your faith as with your church family? Where else will you find forgiveness when you fail to express love? And where else will you find the Savior, who will be your example of love incarnate?