The 19th Sunday after Pentecost, OCTOBER 23, 2011
MATTHEW 22:34-46; LEVITICUS 19:1-2,15-18
The Rev. Doug Hale
In your mind, what is the one most important thing about the Christian faith? If someone asked you to explain the Christian faith, what is the one thing that you would want to make certain that you told them?
What is the most important thing in your faith? What theme seems to come up for you over and over again when you are thinking about the implications of your faith? Some people might say: the forgiveness of sins, love, living a good life. What would you say?
The question asked of Jesus in our Gospel passage this morning is a similar question. “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” What is core? What is your focus? Never mind that the question is asked to test Jesus, to try to trip him up. Jesus treats it as a legitimate question.
Jesus begins with quoting what is called the “Shema.” He refers to words that would have been on the lips of Jews every day, repeated as part of their daily prayer:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5)
The beginning for Jesus is the core of our spiritual life. It is our relationship with God.
Jesus doesn’t stop with this. He has a second part to his answer. This part of his answer comes directly from our reading from Leviticus. (Lev. 19:9-18) There are a series of commands about how to treat other people that end with, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In this day in which we live, where some advocate that enlightened self-interest is the way that will guide our economy forward, it is important to hear these words of scripture in another way. Love your neighbor, NOT JUST yourself. When we are making decisions about actions we will take, we need to take into account how our decisions will effect other people.
The flip side of this command is that we love others AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. Many people have been told from the beginning of their lives that they are worthless, but we are told here that not only are other people worth loving, but that we too are worth loving. God wants us to come to know that we are indeed worth much, that we are loved. It is from our love of God and for ourselves
that we find the ability to love others.
It is important to note that in our Leviticus text, the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” ends with “I am the Lord.” In fact, all of the commands in this section end with “I am the Lord.” “Do this BECAUSE I am your God.” Our desire to love God is to be the motivation for loving ourselves and others. The moral life is not just a system of values, it is rooted in our relationship with God. It is rooted in the person of God. If we are to lead moral lives then we need to cultivate our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is to lead us into loving ourselves and our neighbors.
Jesus has a third part to his answer. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Today, there is a lot of talk about the ethic of love, that we should love one another. But often times it gets spoken about in such general terms that we don’t get around to talking about specific ways to love or to talking about specific actions, to talking about what love requires of us.
But Jesus tells us that we need to hang some specific commandments upon these greatest but general commandments. For instance, the 10 Commandments begin with “I am the Lord your God.” Sound familiar? And then we are given 10 specific ways to show our love for God and for our
The passage from Leviticus is a collection of fairly concrete and practical commands. They include such things as specific ways to care for the poor and direction on how to treat the disabled fairly. The reality is that in Scripture we are given a lot of specific direction about how we are to live our lives. Ancient Rabbis came up with 1226 commandments, prohibitions and precepts in scripture
that are there to guide our lives. That should be enough to keep us busy in applying them for years to come.
They are there for us if we are willing to open the Scriptures and read them and take them to heart. Some will be easy because we are already doing them. Some will be challenging and cause us to change our lives. Some will be clear and directly apply to our lives. Some will take some thought about how they apply to the different circumstances in our lives.
Jesus’ answers point us in the direction we need to be going with our lives. It must begin with our devotion to God. Our lives need to be centered in God.
It then takes into account how God views us as valuable and then directs that outward to help us see the value of the people around us.
And finally, we are given a lot of direction in Scripture about how to love God, love ourselves and love one another. If we limit ourselves to what we might hear from sermons on Sunday morning, then we will miss out on a lot of what Scripture has to offer us in guidance. It is there for us to read for ourselves. Considering how it might be applied might be a good source of conversation during Coffee Hour rather than talking about the weather.
Fr. Doug Hale