Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2009
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore." Matthew 22:34-46
In the Gospels, you don’t find Jesus and the Pharisees in agreement about much of anything. But here, Jesus gives an answer that completely satisfies them.
“Teacher, what is the greatest of the commandments?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your thoughts . . . and the second is similar. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is used carelessly these days. We need to rehabilitate it, show what it means. To love God and to love your neighbor is neither careless nor occasional. It is not qualified by conditions.
Loving God like this is pure passion, like a hobby that has completely grabbed you. You buy all the books. You join clubs. It takes over your life.
Loving God like this is the love you had in the first, fiery stages of your relationship. It hurts. You would rather think about the one you love more than eat, or sleep, or drink. That’s how you feel about church, worship, His voice speaking to you in Scripture.
Loving God like this is a husband or wife who has spent years in a marriage and now fights to keep it going, even in the bad times. You cannot live without it.
Jesus and the Pharisees also agree on how to love people. Briefly put, other people are now your business. Their needs are your concern. Your time and money and sweat are at their disposal.
That’s what Jesus and the Pharisees agree on.
The beautiful thing about these words is that everyone agrees on them. Not just Jesus and the Pharisees, but Christians and non-Christians. Unbelievers, too! Well, maybe not the part about loving God, but certainly the part about loving others. We’re all united. This is humanity’s common ground. These beautiful words inspire us.
Too bad they can’t save us.
There’s the problem. We love them, but we don’t do them. We are, quite sadly, not up to it.
Jesus’ beautiful words are the summary of the Torah, also called the Law. Torah was God’s holy gift handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai for us to enjoy. It is beautiful. If we would only do these words, it would be more than enough to save us. We would have a truly beautiful life with God and each other.
But we would have to dedicate our lives to God. Give up our sarcasm. Stop putting conditions on our love. No more being bored with Him, or His worship services or His Bible. And then we would have to stop despising terrible people.
While the Pharisees, whoever they may be, chew on that thought, Jesus asks his own question.
“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” The Lord wants a good answer. What’s more, he’s saying that the solution to the problem of faith and love is right in front of us. When the Pharisees go silent, it’s not out of stupidity. It’s out of stubbornness. They agree with these beautiful words, but they do not want to admit they cannot do them. They do not want to admit that Jesus, the Messiah, must do them for them. That He is sitting with them right now.
There are two ways to live your life. The one way is to live by these beautiful words, telling God you have done them. He will see through that. The other way is to live by these beautiful words, freely admitting to God where you have failed. The first is a life without Christ. The second is a life where the Lord picks you up, dusts you off and sends you, forgiven, back out into the world to live by these words every day. It is a life where you go out in joy, loved by a God whose son died for you, confident you will not be turned away on account of your failures. The other life is not so certain. It is a life filled with percentages and deals made with God. It is a life of longing for what you cannot reach. It is an unconsummated love between God and your soul.
Christ’s life and death live up to these words. They are acts of love done for you and His heavenly Father. Your life is hidden under His doing, like a chick hides under a hen -- the power of God overshadows your faithlessness and lovelessness with the faith and love of Christ. The stains of your sinfulness are muted by the shadow of the cross.
This morning, when you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, when you trace Christ’s cross over your body, when you remember how His hands felt upon your head during absolution, know this: the one who passionately loves God and you stands among us. He has brought you here. It is His life that makes these words inspiring, beautiful, real.
They will make your life beautiful, too. The first Christians understood this better than we. They were baptized naked in huge fonts that looked like small, in-floor swimming pools. Coming out of the waters of washing, the bishop robed them with clean, white gowns to wear to church for the Sundays leading up to Pentecost. It was a metaphor. First there is the washing clean of sin. Then Christ placing a beautiful robe of holiness upon you, covering up your shame and loss.
Consider then these words from Jesus to be the beautiful embroidery on your baptismal robe. You may wear them, live by them, be inspired by them. They adorn your life. Adorn every moment of it with faith in God and love for others.
But more than that, thank God there is one who has done these beautiful words for you. In Christ, we have credit for all things well done.
The Reverend Sean M. Smallwood
cruxprobatomnia -- the cross tests everything
Credit for the words on divine love goes to Pfarrer Martin Rothfuchs of Hohenwestedt, Germany. Ago gratias, frater.