Matthew 22:34-46, October 25, 2020
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Put away your fluffy felt board Jesus,
Because the conflict between Jesus and Temple authorities
These past few Sundays have been high stakes, high drama, public confrontations.
They challenge his authority.
Jesus dishes it right back,
Exposing their lies, fraud, hypocrisy, and sin for all the world to see.
It is helpful to recognize the Gospel lessons of the past few weeks
Would fit better if proclaimed during Holy Week,
Instead of at the end of the liturgical year.
Every October / November
Focus on the high stakes encounters between Jesus and the authorities
Between his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Sunday
And his tragic death on the cross on Friday.
Let there be no mistake:
Jesus came to Jerusalem to die and rise again.
He didn’t come to celebrate the Passover
Only to return home the following week
Like all the rest of the happy campers.
Jesus came to Jerusalem to provoke a people
From accepting the status quo to taking action,
To wake them from a mindless, sleepy faith
To an active, growing, relational faith
In a loving God.
Jesus was seeking conversion.
Jesus calls, trains, and deploys disciples
To witness their faith,
To spread the Gospel, and
To bring forgiveness and salvation to a yearning world.
So, this is where we are at today:
Jesus had entered Jerusalem,
Marched up to the Temple,
Overturned the money changers tables,
And faced off with religious and secular authorities
In a revolving door, tag team effort of entrapment.
They questioned his authority to teach.
Jesus taught them parables that
Indicted organized religion
And individual greed.
The parable of two sons, wicked tenants, the wedding banquet
Upended tables of power, authority, and what it means to live faithfully.
Last week, Jesus was questioned about paying taxes and tithing
Allowing him to reset people’s assumptions about faith.
Today, Jesus had silenced the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection,
Leaving the path clear for the Pharisees
To tag in and make one last attempt
At going for the pin.
A lay leader of the Temple,
A lawyer, by trade,
Asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Every Jew would have known the answer to this question,
Just as every American knows George Washington was our first president.
He isn’t testing Jesus’ knowledge.
He is testing Jesus’ methods.
He is probing to see if Jesus has the wear-with-all
To debate in their high powered, elite academic circles.
Are you worthy, Jesus?
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
The answer is so basic to faith
Every Jewish child is taught to pray
By starting out with reciting this Law,
Called the Shema (from the first word, Hear, as it is in Hebrew).
This is Shema
Word for word right out of the Torah, our Old Testament, Deut. 6:4-5
“Hear O Israel: the Lord thy God is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
What was so astonishing was the fact that Jesus didn’t stop there.
He continued on by attaching to the Shema
A previously unrelated law from Leviticus 19:18, 34
Merging these two ideals into one-
“and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Never before had these Laws been brought together;
United by Jesus to provide the pivotal point
For God and Humankind’s Salvation History.
Not only does Jesus make this addendum,
But he invites them to debate other aspects of the law.
Let’s talk Messiah, people.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with lineage from David to Jesus
Jesus quiets his critics
With the unanswerable,
How can King David have the Messiah,
The Son of God,
In his lineage?
Outmatched, outwitted, outplayed
The Pharisees scurried away.
Jesus is the lone survivor.
And they did not dare ask him any more questions.
It is as simple as that.
Most of us today appreciate
The simplicity of this statement on the surface
But, if you are like me,
This simplicity leads me to ponder more deeply
“What does it mean to love God?”
“What does it mean to love neighbors?”
Hear, O Israel,
Love the Lord your God.
Love, in this use, is not emotional or romantic.
Love isn’t all talk.
Love God with action!
Open your heart and allow the Holy Spirit of God to sweep you away!
Jump to the front of the line, eager for baptism,
Being named once and for all time
As a disciple of Jesus.
Fall in love with Jesus and show your love for him every day.
Act like you are in love.
Fall on your knees and seek God’s repentance and forgiveness for past sins.
Return to those you have harmed, and make it right.
Serve the Lord full time.
Pray, study, discern, act
Fulfilling God’s will for you and your life.
Attend worship and give God praise and thanks.
Open, jump, fall, return, serve, attend …
These are action words,
Because loving God means actions speak louder than words.
Hear, O Israel
Love your neighbors as yourself.
What does it mean to love our neighbors?
Every Hebrew scholar worth their weight
Will follow the Reece’s Pieces trail
Jesus leaves for us to follow back to Leviticus 19.
Here we find insight to what Jesus means
When he tells us to love our neighbors.
First, our neighbors are our kin and our clan.
Hear these words
“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
– Leviticus 19:17-18
No problem we say to ourselves.
I love my family;
Blood is thicker than water, after all.
I love my friends;
We’ve got each other’s back.
I love my church;
After all, we all get along.
This pastor must observe:
“In what delusional world do we think we live?!!!”
Life is full of dysfunctional families, broken friendships, and conflict laden churches!
Love is action!
Therefore, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must
Welcome one another with generous hospitality;
Anticipate every need;
Fulfill every need, then go the extra mile.
Loving means to
Purify every motive;
Share every burden;
Overlook every fault.
Welcome, anticipate, fulfill, purify, share, overlook, encourage, bless, and celebrate …
Are the actions of love
This is the will of Jesus.
Good Hebrew scholars don’t end here.
This nineteenth chapter of Leviticus continues
“You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
– Leviticus 19:32-34
Loving our neighbor
Means we love the alien in our midst.
Jesus did not have Star Trek in mind!
Aliens are travelers from other lands,
People beyond our own family and clans.
Jesus is asking us to love people beyond our circle of safety and security;
People we don’t know and have never met.
Who are these neighbors Jesus is calling us to love?
Unemployed and underemployed.
People with different abilities.
Those suffering from illness or disease.
People who are guilty and incarcerated.
People immigrating to our land.
Loving them means more than naming them.
Meet new people.
Make new friends.
Get to know the waitress who waits on you,
The receptionist who welcomes you to the doctor’s office,
And the grocery store employee who
Helps you locate that one item on the grocery list you just can’t find.
Draw up your inner courage,
Place your trust that the Spirit will support you.
Live beyond yourself,
Placing the needs of someone else before your own.
Seek out new stories
And make the intentional effort to sit on your own.
Make yourself curious about the rest of the world,
Learn how it works,
And how God has knit us all together.
Loving our neighbors means living for others more than living for ourselves.
Dearly beloved sisters and brothers,
Reach up to God with praise, thanksgiving, and love.
Branch out to our neighbors in love,
Both near and far,
Both kin and stranger alike.
Grow the trust within
That God’s hand is at work in your life.
God will protect,
God will provide for
Those who are doing God’s will.
What are you doing to
Love God and love your neighbors?
What more can you do?
The time to start is now.