The Gospel. St. Matthew XXII. 34.
When the Pharisees had heard that Jesus had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them saying, What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, the son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
On occasion, my Catherine will get after me to quote more from Scripture during my sermons. Admittedly, I do sometimes tend to preach on the subject at hand without bringing in too much from the other parts of the Bible in support. While I’m not averse to quoting Scripture, it’s never really been my style to “thump the Bible”.
But today, we have Christ himself quoting Scripture, thumping the Bible if you will. And when he does it’s the last word on the subject. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets“. You see, the Law was everything to the Pharisees, who were the main audience here. They lived it, breathed it, spoke it, taught it. They thought they were the Law. But Jesus points out the flaw in their thinking. And that flaw was in their application of the Law.
The love that the Pharisees felt was for the letter of the Law; The rules and guidelines around what to eat, what to drink, what to wear; how to keep the Sabbath; even how and when to wash. This was their main concern, and when they thought that someone was violating the letter of the Law, the Pharisees would be outraged.
They were so confident in their superiority, that they thought they could show up this lowly, “know-it-all” carpenter by putting him on the spot. “Tell us, smarty pants, which one of the commandments in the Law is the greatest”? They’re going to show everyone just how foolish this Jesus was by tricking him into a response that they could then refute. But Our Lord turns the tables on them and he uses their precious Law to show them up instead.
Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, chapter 6; “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”. Well, how could anyone argue with that? I imagine at first that some of the Pharisees might be a bit put out at hearing this. Is this backwoods rabbi telling US that WE don’t love God? Of course we love God; after all, we keep all His commandments, don’t we?
Ah, but then Jesus throws in Leviticus, chapter 19; “but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. Opps. Well, now, ya see, that whole “love thy neighbor” thing, well, ya know, we kinda, sorta, do that. Except for the sinners. And the Romans. And the Samaritans. And any other Gentile. But other than that…
And then Jesus drops the bombshell on them; guys, you know your precious Law? The entire thing is boiled down to these two statements! Love the Lord thy God. Love thy neighbor. Everything, all the Mosaic Law, all the writings of the Jewish prophets, everything the Pharisees supposedly lived for, Jesus sums up in two neat phrases, taken right from the Law! And then he throws it right back at them. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets“. In today’s world, this would be followed by some pithy statement like “any questions”?
The end of the Gospel lesson today tells us that no-one dared ask Jesus any more questions after this. How could they? Jesus proved that he knew his stuff; he knew the Law, even better than did the Pharisees. No wonder he was so dangerous to them. He had the last word. Not that this should be surprising since, well, after all, he IS the Word.
And as we know, this holds true even today. Jesus has the last Word; after all, he IS the Word. And he has made it so simple for us. Just love God, and love our neighbors. Do those two things, and we have followed the entirety of God’s Law.
This is so important. This one particular passage can be found in all four Gospels. Think there’s a reason for that? It’s because Christianity itself hangs on these two commandments as well.
Loving God is a given; although I doubt that most of us can really know, on our own, what that means. That’s why Jesus ties this to the second commandment; “and the second is like unto it”; Loving thy neighbor. I think, when it comes to loving our neighbor, we are too often like those Pharisees; “Well, now, ya see, that whole “love thy neighbor” thing, well, ya know, we kinda, sorta, do that. Except for…”
Loving our neighbor is not optional in Christianity. It is, by Jesus own words, mandatory. If you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love God. It’s that simple. From St. James, chapter 2; “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors”. If you haven’t yet given anything to help your Anglican Catholic brethern in Haiti, or Southern Africa, or even in this Diocese, so that you can instead afford go to bingo or to dinner on Thursday nights, then you might rightly question whether you can say that you love God.
Galatians, chapter 5; “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. It’s that whole responsibility thing again. We are so lucky, so blessed, here at St. James. It’s our duty to show our love for those who are less fortunate. We are commanded to do so. If we don’t, then we have to question whether we can say that we love God.
And finally, Romans, chapter 13; “and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”.
What more can I say on the matter? Well, after giving it much thought and prayer, I concluded that there is nothing more that I can, or should say. As always, Christ is the last Word; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets“.