Sunday, October 26, 2014

love God, love neighbour

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a sinister undertone to our Gospel reading today that would be quite easy to miss. You might ask yourself how can a reading about Jesus answering a question as to what is the greatest commandment be in anyway sinister? The clue comes in the motivation the lawyer had for asking the question.
St Matthew records that he did so in order to test Jesus. The Greek word here carries with it the conotation of 'tempting' - in fact quite often in the King James' Version and other older translations it is translated as tempt. And in the context of the much wider block of Scripture to which our passage today belongs, we can see why it would be described as an effort to tempt our Lord.
Because in that larger series of passages the Pharisees, Saducees, teachers of the law, Herodians, and others have been looking for an opportunity to trip Jesus up, to catch him out in some way. They are hoping that they will trap him in his words in some way - with a desired result that at the very least they will discredit him in front of the crowd and thereby damage or even destroy his ability to teach; and at best, for them, get him to say something that will enable them to bring him up on charges of some sort, either civil or religious, allowing them to imprison him, or even have him executed.
So what trap might they be trying to set with such a seemingly innoncent question? Well St John Chrysostom believes they were hoping he would say something in response that would allow them to charge him with blasphemy. He has been referring to himself as the Son of Man; others refer to him as Son of David, the Messiah, even Lord. He has said he can forgive sins, something they know only God can do. When he taught he spoke with authority, unlike others - they would say 'thus says the Lord;' but Jesus said 'But I say unto you' before giving some new teaching or new interpreation of an old.
All of this was very close to openly claiming divinity. And it seems likely that they were hoping that he would say something here that was so open, so clearly identifing himself with the God he also called his Father, that would be instantly able to arrest him.
They were, of course, disapointed. Jesus saw through and defeated this trap as he had done so many others. But there is, for me, a certain irony in the situation also. He gives them a profound summary of the law - love God, and love your neighbour; and we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that by neighbour is meant all people, whether you like them or not, whether they are your closest friend or your most hated enemy. Love God; love your neighbour. And the one who stands before them is the one who is both God and neighbour.
They, as the teachers and guardians of the law, are the very ones who should have been the first to recognise him as divine. But they do not, largely because it does not suit their earthly agenda to do so. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
But even if they can not bring themselves to acknowlege him as either God incarnate, or at the very least as one sent by God, his Messiah or a prophet, the one thing they should not be able to deny is that he is a man, a fellow human being, in other words their neighbour. They stand there before him, agreeing with his summary of the law, accepting their duty to love their neighbour as themselves, even as they plot evil against the one who presents them with that teaching. Love God, love neighbour he says to the ones who at that moment do neither, who at that moment plot the destruction and death of the Man who is God.

Yet from their sinister intentions, from what they intend for evil, comes good: our Lord's summary of the law, a summary we have from his own lips, given to us with his own authority. Love God, love our neighbour. And this is not the fluffy, sound-bite theology that people sometimes try to make it to be, of the sort when people say 'all that Jesus really said is that we should love each other.' Our Lord said a great deal more than that; if he had not, then the New Testament would be a very much thinner. 
But his summary does say that all his teaching is underpinned by love, that all of his teaching as it relates to the duties we owe to God should be underpinned by love of him; and all of his teaching as it relates to what we owe to our brothers and sisters should also be underpinned by love – a love that seeks that receive justice and mercy in this life, and that are equipped to enter into eternal life in the next. A love that hopes others will see the way that Christ's teaching is made explicit in our lives and hopes they will be lead to also live by that teaching. A love that makes us willing to look at our own lives in the light of that teaching and ask ourselves: am I showing love for both God and neighbour in how I live my life? This is a question that I pray that all here will ask themselves honestly, every day; and not only ask for his mercy and forgiveness when we fail, but pray for his grace and strength to do better the next day. Amen

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