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.
Every now and then, my Catherine will “encourage” me to include more quotations from Holy Scripture in the course of my sermons. Admittedly, I do sometimes tend to preach on the subject at hand without bringing in too much support from the other parts of the Bible. It’s not that I’m opposed to quoting Scripture, but it’s never really been my “style” to mimic the Protestant tendency to “thump the Bible”. Perhaps, in this, I have been misguided.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we see Christ himself quoting Scripture; “thumping the Bible” if you will. And when he does so, Our Lord lays claim to having the last Word on the subject. On these two commandments hang ALL THE LAW and the prophets. You see to the Pharisees, who were the primary audience here, the Law was everything. They loved it, lived it, breathed it, spoke it, taught it; some of them even thought that they personally were the Law. 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 a person should wash themselves. Not only was this their main concern, but also the primary focus of their “professional” life. And when they thought that someone was violating the letter of the Law, the Pharisees would react with indignation. This is why they responded to Jesus words in such an ignorant way.
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. “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?“; or as a modern sceptic might put it today; “Tell us, smarty pants, which one of the commandments in the Law is the above all the rest”?
The Pharisees thought that with this question, they would show everyone just how foolish this Jesus was by tricking him into a response that they could then subject to ridicule. They thought that they could trap him by asking a question that they themselves could not answer completely. These Pharisees failed to realize that the fact that they themselves had no answer for this question was evidence of their own lack of Faith; it was evidence of their own ignorance of the Law.
But Our Lord turns the tables on them and he uses their precious Law to show them up instead. Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6:5; “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 that at first some of the Pharisees might have felt 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 19:18; “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 sinners; and the Romans; and the Samaritans; and any of the other Gentiles. But other than that…
And then Jesus drops the bombshell on them; “On these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets.“; “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 statement would be followed by some pithy closing remark like “any questions”?
The end of the Gospel lesson today tells us that after this no-one dared ask Our Lord any more questions. How could they? Jesus proved that he knew his stuff; he knew the Law, even better than did the Pharisees. No wonder he was such a danger to them. He had the last word. Not that this should be surprising since, well, after all, he IS the Word.
As we know, this holds true even today. Jesus has the first Word, and he has the last Word; he is Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Revelation 22:13); he IS, indeed, the Word of God. 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. Do you suppose that 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 next commandment; “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”; Loving thy neighbor. I think that when it comes to loving our neighbor, we are all 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 Our Lord’s own words, mandatory. If you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love yourself. And if you don’t love yourself, you don’t love God. It’s that simple.
From St. James, chapter 2:8; “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But 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 brethren in Haiti, or Southern Africa, or even in this Diocese, so that you can instead afford to go to bingo or to dinner on Thursday nights, then you might rightly question whether you can say that you love God.
Galatians, chapter 5:13; “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 blessed by God’s grace here at St. James, and it is 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 truly can say that we love God.
And finally, we have Romans, chapter 13:9; “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 has the last Word; for he is, after all, the Word of God; 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.