Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Yr A, Proper 25 Oct 25 2020
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46
Which commandment in the law is the greatest? 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 the second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The Pharisees, who had heard that Jesus had bested the Sadducees, continued to try to entrap him. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is straight out of the Hebrew scripture, not a book like we know it today, but stories told around tables and hearths and campfires. Jesus knows those scriptures well; he had them on his heart, and in his soul. Those scriptures are part of the very fiber of his being, so much so that they are his flesh and blood. Those scriptures were what each Hebrew boy and girl heard and recited every day of their lives. And they also knew the story of creation, they knew the story of Noah, of Moses, of Exodus and Exile, of David, the Prophets, they knew the story about the angel passing over their homes when they put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts; they knew the stories of their ancestors. They even knew who was related to whom, the genealogy that opens the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was not a recitation of the law, the law that he knew well. Jesus’ answer was love, Jesus’ answer was to show forth a pattern of love, the activity of love. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was relationship. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor.
Remember last week when I said that maybe what Jesus might be doing is inviting us to declare our allegiance. I suggested that perhaps the key question isn’t whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us. We indeed are made in God's image and marked as God's own forever. It’s hard for us to know that, it’s hard for us to believe that, it’s hard for us to follow Jesus if we don’t know the story of love.
Knowing our story, knowing our bible, is knowing where we came from, knowing to whom we belong. Knowing this story helps us to identify our value and worth. Our story teaches us, shows us, tells us that we are created in God's image. And this story is ultimately important because being created in God’s image is where love is located. We see God’s love for us in the pattern of action that is our sacred story.
And that story is about creation and blessing, it is of being separated from God, and it is of repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this story, God who is the creator of the universe, comes to be one of us, Jesus, and lives, loves, suffers and dies, and is raised from the dead. It is the story that calls us to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is about God’s relationship with us, God’s beloveds.
But from our point of view it's hard to see the wholeness of the story. We see only pieces, we catch glimpses. When we are engulfed in darkness it's very hard to trust that there is light. It’s hard to see anything at all. And it’s hard to love ourselves, much less our neighbor. But it is when we come out of suffering and sadness with hope and joy that we really can experience the love and the light, and the new life that God has for us. And we remember, we remember God's love for us and for all of creation. Sometimes, when we listen carefully, we can actually hear God’s love for us in the voices of the people whom we encounter, especially at times of deepest sorrow or quiet joy.
And yet, love in the bible really has very little to do with how we feel. Love in the first-century Mediterranean world was not a vague warm feeling toward someone, but a pattern of action - attachment to a person backed up with behavior, attachment to this man Jesus, who is willing to stand up to the power brokers of his day. The two commandments Jesus gives demand nothing less than heart, soul, and mind -- in other words, every part of a person capable of valuing something – and that those capacities be devoted to God and to every neighbor.
And there is no one exempt from the category of neighbor; the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that. So what we read today is a continuation of what we read last week. Last week we heard that everything comes from and belongs to God. Everything. This continuation of that reading demands nothing less than everything, heart, soul and mind. Jesus' call will compel each one of his followers to take the fullest extent of God's love to the furthest reach of that love, to every person whom God makes. As God has first loved us, we will love others.
As God has first loved us, we will love others. So then, why is there so much hate in our world? Why do people rise up against those whose ancestry, or skin color is different from their own? Why do we hurt one another? Why? I wonder if it is because we are filled with the fear of loss. People are afraid of losing themselves, or their history, or their tradition. People are afraid of losing their power, or their possessions. We are afraid that our world will never return to normal. We are afraid the wrong people will get elected. We are afraid. And fear usually ends up as hate.
We forget, they forget, in whose image we are made. It is God’s image on that coin, it is God’s image on our hearts. We are made for love; we are made for relationship. We are made to love our neighbor.
And this is Jesus’ call to us and claim on us. Everything comes from God and belongs to God, and that demands a pattern of action, love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor; remembering that love is not how we feel, but a decision we make, a pattern of action. Love is a pattern of action. This is how we are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, the outcasts and the sinners, you and me. Following Jesus, begin a Christian, is about a pattern of love, and no one is excluded from that love. That love, that relationship with God through Jesus is transforming love. And that love sends us out into the world to serve God and serve one another.
The original question the Pharisees ask Jesus is, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answers not with law, but with the pattern of action that is love. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does indeed win.