October 24, 2011

Like This if You Love The Lord...

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Once again we have another story of a challenge and confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders and elites. In this case, the Pharisees. Today we hear Jesus confound the scribes and Pharisees with his superior biblical knowledge and irrefutable logic.When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus takes the words of all 613 commandments of the Law, and cuts to the chase of God’s will, cuts to the core of God’s purpose.
I can almost hear Jesus saying to the lawyer, “I know that you’ve read the Scripture, but let me give you the divine purpose for every Scripture that you’ve read.” Jesus answers the lawyers question by quoting Judaism’s most fundamental, ancient, and widely recited biblical passages, the Shema:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment, and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then before the lawyer could ask, “What about the other commandments?” Jesus said:
“On these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.”

We hear this and it sounds nice. I am sure that as parents and teachers we have even used this when we are making a point when there are disagreements with our children. However, our understanding of love is limited. And this is a problem for us in interpreting this double commandment. I think that our culture has lost sight of the biblical meaning of love.
Our culture has equated love with overly romanticized intense emotion.

We love chocolate: we cannot help ourselves.
We love a movie: it entertains or moves us.
We love a boy or girlfriend: they make us happy.
We love a spouse: they complete us.
We love the color pink - okay maybe I am getting carried away and that one is just for me.

Jesus is not talking about this kind of love. So then what makes the love that Jesus talks about different from the love that what we know and understand?

We know warm fuzzy love.

Jesus is not talking about warm fuzzy love.

In fact, Jesus is using some seriously radical language to talk about love. Jesus radically links love of God with love of neighbor and self as the "Greatest." By doing this Jesus makes all other laws about purity, cleanliness, rituals, sacrifices, secondary. In other words, with these two commandments, Jesus has just cut the privileged status out from under the feet of the religious leaders, whose position depends on these secondary laws. It is no wonder that the Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo.

This love that Jesus is talking about is radical love!

When Jesus answers the lawyer, he is also providing a summary of his mission and ministry. The two commandments are alike in the sense that they interpret one another. This is made clear in what happens next in Matthew’s narrative. In the scenes that follow our text today,
Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for misunderstanding and misusing the law; He says that they "use Moses' seat" as a way to lay heavy burdens on others and draw attention to themselves (Matt 23:1-12).

In quoting the Shema, Jesus points out that the aim of the law is to orient one's entire life towards God.

However, one cannot love God without loving what God loves!

One cannot love God and oppress or exclude any of God's creatures - even one's enemies.

While the scribes and Pharisees used the law to place severe limits on those whom they were obliged to recognize as their neighbors, Jesus joins these texts, about loving God and neighbor, in order to smash all the limits and boundaries of neighborliness.

As Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:

"God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matt 5:45).

Therefore, one who truly loves God will also love his or her enemies. It is the only way to "be perfect, therefore , as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matt 5:48).

To love God is to love in the way that God loves - indiscriminately.
To love God is to love what God loves - everything.
To love God is to love who God loves - everyone - yes, even the people who are hard to love.
Wow - this sounds tough! This will not be easy!
In fact, love like this is controversial.
Love like this means going against the flow.
Love like this means that there will be people who will turn against us.
Love like this turns cultural norms, turns whole societies, turns governments upside down and says - No, there is a better way.

No - it is certainly not easy to love like this.
People die for this kind of love.

But love like this - is not impossible. We can love like this. We can love like this because we have been loved like this.

We have a God who is the source of all life and love - A creating, sustaining and loving God that makes all things possible.

We have a God who is the example for us - Jesus.
Jesus sets the example for us. Jesus comes to serve, and through serving shows that true greatness is not in power, but in service - Love is not having authority over others, but is helping others, having compassion on others.
Jesus loves to the point of dying for all - even for the people who hate him.
Jesus proves himself to be true and faithful interpreter of Scripture, silencing his critics with knowledge and wisdom.
Jesus is the Messiah who loves his enemies, who loves as God loves, who is Emmanuel "God with us" (Matt 1:23).
So with God with us, who can be against us.
This love that Jesus is talking about is radical love!
It is life giving love. It is a love that, rather than taking your breath away, breathes new life into you – and into the people God empowers you to love…
It is a wonderful love.
A love that is so full of wonder that all we can do sometimes is praise God and say WOW!


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