The Distinctive Message of Jesus (Mt 22:34-46 Sunday, October 26, 2014)
Especially when we are in difficulties or a crisis, we often seek God’s guidance and help. How can we know what God wants? and beyond that, how can we get ourselves to want what God wants? That is the theme of our readings and the Collect.
There are many people who advise regarding life philosophy. Our parents, relatives and friends all give us their philosophy of life. We have the great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. We have the world religions, where one example is the element of detachment “as release from desire and consequently from suffering… an important principle, or even ideal, in the Baha’i faith, and in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Taoism” (Wikipedia). By contrast, there is full scale engagement with life, in Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. The great psychologists and psychiatrists like Freud and Jung and others had contrasting ideas too.
So there are many different ideas, going in many different directions. In our gospel reading Jesus expresses some essential features of his message and emphasis, which is different to all those named above.
In Matthew chapter 22 there are a series of tests of Jesus. Those tests were set for him by different groups of people — Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and scribes (or lawyers). Those groups had different beliefs, philosophies, economics, and politics—they had different ideas of what life was all about.
In response to each test, Jesus stated his own essential message. We all get a clearer idea of what he stood for from his responses. His message was about the power of love.
In that way through his entire life Jesus continued in loving communion with God; and continued loving and serving his neighbors.
In verses 34-46 (today’s gospel reading) Jesus responded to yet one more test, from a lawyer. In answer to the question about what was the greatest commandment, Jesus could have said differently. Parts of the Pentateuch emphasize holy war. Then again, the Hebrew Scriptures very often emphasize the importance of the Sabbath, and the care of the poor. Another example was St Paul emphasizing importance of the Tenth Commandment, namely avoiding covetousness.
What Jesus affirmed in today’s reading, however, were these two: First, the centrality of love (of God and others) in the scriptures (like Leviticus 19:17-18) and the law.
Second, Jesus said that there was something more important about the identity of the Christ (or the Messiah) than his descent from David. Essentially, the Christ or Messiah was about more than the national interests of Israel. When we truly follow the Christ, the Messiah, self interest must move to the wings, and other-interest must move to center stage. Jesus said that was the central message of the Bible, and the central purpose of God and of our lives. When we follow the Christ, the Messiah, all self interest moves to the wings, and interest in and love for God and others takes center stage.
In our service of worship, love for God and for others appears in several places: (a) In the Collect for Purity and the Gloria we worship God–and after that listen to God’s word to us; (b) in the prayers of the people we pray for other people of all kinds–pray for them, and then in our lives work for their good as well; (c) in the confession we repent of sinning against others; (d) in the peace, we express our love for one another; (e) in the offertory we gather money (in part,) for those in need; (f) in the Eucharistic prayer we express our gratitude for and acceptance of the loving self sacrifice of God in Jesus; and (g) in the dismissal we go to share God’s love with our neighbors.
The Collect alludes to the words of 1 Cor 13: Where love is absent, nothing else matters at all said St Paul–not faith, wealth, fame, beauty, strength, or talent. Yet, where love is present, everything falls into place. As long as there is enough love, we will eventually discover the solutions, whether economic, political, medical, or anything else.
The challenges of loving our neighbour come up every day. Take the medical field. We know how unloving people can be. Fear, antagonism and hatred can arise very quickly. Fear and antagonism appears again for example as the Ebola epidemic and quarantines take root around the world. The dynamics are brilliantly portrayed in Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prizewinning book Blindness. His book reflects the (failure and the) importance of love and respect and mutual care during the fearsome time of the spread of a dread disease.
Nashaly Vazquez has been a severely disabled child and member of Sunshine Haven next door. Then she died (a few weeks ago, in Sept 2014) at 15 years old. In caring for Nashaly, the members of staff and of the Northbridge Middle School were exemplary of the power of love, which is stronger than disease, or disability, or death.
That loving spirit of God fills and sustains us. In each relationship we should conduct a “love audit”. How carefully do we listen to others and pay attention to their needs and feelings? That is something we can work on a hundred times a day, in each interaction. That attitude will transform our lives. In a moment of silence, begin your own “love audit”. Our Psalm 1 urges us to meditate on God’s law. Review your relationships for how much concern you show to those around you. Let us ask God to help make our hearts larger and our love greater. Amen.