Matthew 22:34 - 46
“Father, may these spoken words
be faithful to the written word
and lead us to the living word
Jesus Christ our Lord”
The Jewish religion is all founded on Law.
Every Jewish service in the synagogue starts with the same words. They are called the Shema which means Hear.
‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.’
It continues to tell them to teach their children these words, to bind them to their wrists and fit them on the forehead in little boxes called phylacteries so that they might think of God in all their actions and thinking,
to write them on paper put them in a box called a mezulla and fasten them to the door posts of their houses and touch them as they go out and in to remind them that God is with them in their going out and their coming in. In Jesus’ day the devout Jews were the Pharisees. They would have the little boxes strapped to their foreheads and wrists. They got to hear the news that Jesus had silenced their rivals the Sadducees and the Herodians, as we heard in last weeks sermon, so they want to check to see if Jesus has changed sides and is now one of them.
So they ask him ‘Teacher which is the most important commandment in the law?’ That is no mean question, as there are 613 commandments in the Law of Moses. They asked Jesus to choose from the 365 ‘do not’ laws (one for each day of the year) and the 248 ‘must do’ laws of Moses. I am sure they would have agreed with the initial answer that Jesus gave - The first commandment. This was not just an instruction on what to do; to love God, but it formed part of the prayer that every devout Jew prayed and continues to pray to the present time. Good answer then Jesus.
But of course it doesn’t end there. Here is today’s special offer. Two for the price of one. They asked for the greatest commandment and Jesus gives them a second commandment – one that we are very familiar with ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ This also would have been familiar to the Pharisees as it was one of the 613 laws of Moses. Jesus links the two commandments revolving around one word: love – it all sounds so easy, so wonderfully straightforward. Or at least it does until we take on board that the neighbours Jesus refers to are not just those who live next door or nearby, but everyone, everywhere; and then, suddenly, we feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge and the enormity of our responsibility. I am sure we can all think of neighbours we don’t feel too loving towards.
Jesus turns the law upside down – instead of giving us a list 613 do nots and must do’s in order to honour God we are challenged to love God and love our neighbour, to do what we can, and this list is endless, for there is virtually no limit to the human need within our world.
In our own community and beyond there are people crying out for support and help, desperately in need of a little kindness and compassion. Of course we cannot respond to them all, and I don’t for a moment expect that Jesus intended us to, but how far do we respond to any of these needs? That is the acid test of our love for God and as individuals we have to work that out.
The other thing we have to address is what is meant by loving our neighbour for ‘love’ is a misused word; it can be spoken to convey everything from genuine like, to affection and even to lust. We apply it lightly to everyday commodities like chocolate and the car. This love that Jesus commands is not aroused by finding beauty or worth in a object, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13 this love is free from the taint of selfishness or jealousy.
If you are anything like me you will find yourself asking: ‘How on earth can I do this?’
If we are honest, sometimes the teachings of Jesus are just too hard.
Jesus, you ask us to love my neighbour but I am not allowed to ask that that they should love me in return;
It gets even harder when you ask us to love our enemy but with no guarantee that they will thank us for it or even acknowledge our love.
There was a craze a few years back which started in America. Christians wore T shirts with WWJD on them. I am not suggesting you wear the T shirt but it is a good practice to stop and ask ‘what do I think God wants in this situation. Who said being a Christian was easy - This Loving others thing is tough.
We can do it one step at a time.
I will end with an illustration from Louisa May Alcott written in 1868:
Many of you will recognise – Little Women -
“Merry Christmas Marmee! Many of them!”
‘Merry Christmas, little daughters! But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a newborn baby. 6 children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they are suffering from hunger and cold. “My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?” They were all un usually hungry having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke – only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, ‘I am so glad you came before we began!’ ‘May I go and help carry the things to the poor children?’ asked Beth eagerly. I shall take the cream and the muffins,’ added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked. Meg was already covering the buckwheats and piling the bread into one big plate.
‘I thought you would do it,’ said Mrs March, smiling as if satisfied. ‘You shall have bread and milk for breakfast and make up for it at dinner time. They were soon ready, and the procession set out.
A poor bare miserable room it was with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby and a group of pale, hungry children huddled under one old quilt. How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in! ‘Ach mein Gott. It is good angels come to us!’ said the poor woman crying for joy.
We can do it one step at a time.
And so we pray:
Lord only when our roots go deep into you, will your love enable us to stand firm
to love those who do not love you, to love those who do not love us –
Make us then Lord rooted and grounded in you who are love .