By the Rev. Darren Miner
In today’s Gospel reading, we get two snippets from a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees. The first snippet is about which commandment in the Law of Moses is the greatest. The second snippet is about the identity of the Messiah. Let me deal with snippet #2 first.
Jesus wants to silence the Pharisees who have been plaguing him with questions. So he asks them a riddle about the identity of the Messiah. He quotes the first verse of Psalm 110, written by King David about the crowning of a future Messiah. In that verse, David refers to the Messiah as “my Lord.” Now, biblical prophecy foretold that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. Why, then, would David refer to his own descendant as “my Lord”? For in a patriarchal culture such as ancient Israel, the ancestor is usually given higher rank than the descendant. So we have a mystery: The Messiah will be a descendant of King David, but he will outrank his ancestor. How can this be? Well, the Pharisees can’t solve this riddle, and they wisely stop pestering Jesus. We, on the other hand, know the answer. As the foster son of Joseph, Jesus the Messiah is the descendant of King David by adoption and can legitimately be called a Son of David. But as the only Son of God, Jesus outranks any earthly king, including his royal ancestor.
Now, let’s turn to the first snippet from the debate. What is the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses? Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” But that commandment alone is not sufficient to summarize the purpose of the entire Law of Moses, so Jesus adds a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He tells them that these commandments are the two hinges that hold up the door of Holy Scripture. Now, Jesus is not saying that the other biblical commandments count for nothing. Far from it! But he is saying that these two commandments give us the lens by which to view all of Scripture, keeping us focused on what really matters.
Last Sunday, we had a baptism. And at every baptism, we renew out baptismal covenant by answering eight questions. Episcopalians have a tendency to focus on the last three questions. But the first five questions are important too! They are 1) Do you believe in God the Father? 2) Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? And 3) Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Now even Satan himself believes in God! What these three questions are really trying to ask are 1) Do you love God the Father? 2) Do you love Jesus Christ, the Son of God? And 3) Do you love God the Holy Spirit? Questions 4 and 5 deal with being faithful in worship and turning away from evil and toward God. The whole first section of the baptismal covenant deals precisely with Jesus’ first commandment to love the Lord our God.
Similarly, the final three questions of the baptismal covenant deal with the love of neighbor. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
As I have stated many times before, when the Bible speaks of love, it means action. Yes, it is good to like God and our neighbor. But that is not what is being asked of us. We are asked to love God and our neighbor. In other words, we are expected to perform actions that express our loving regard for God and neighbor. The baptismal covenant helpfully provides a few specifics as to how we might go about doing this.
Now, this community has done quite well over the course of many years in expressing love. But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded from time to time of the requirements of love. One such requirement is to forgive. We are called to forgive the person who hurts our feelings, whether or not that person is sorry, for to withhold forgiveness is to withhold love. We are called to love the person who disagrees with us, even if that disagreement is about something important to us. We are called to love the person who ignores us, or annoys us, or interrupts us, or contradicts us, or lectures us, or reprimands us…or presumes to preach to us!
But even more is required. We are expected to be proactive in our love of neighbor. We are expected to reach out to those in need even before they ask. One parishioner is homebound for the time being with a broken leg. Our volunteer organist buried his mother last week. And our associate priest has just lost his beloved wife. It is my hope that this faith community will do everything in its power to provide support and assistance in their time of need. For that is precisely what the love of neighbor requires of us.
Unfortunately, the very times we live in make the task of loving our neighbor more difficult. Outside this parish, the nation is politically divided right down the middle, and those who speak of compromise are considered traitors to their party. In such circumstances, it is all too easy to hate our political opponents and to despise them. Inside this parish, the presenting issue, I would say, is exhaustion. There is just too much to do, and too few people to do it. (Just ask the ladies preparing for the annual holiday bazaar!) In such circumstances, it is understandable that we should be anxious and frustrated, that nerves should be frayed, that our tempers should be tested.
But it is precisely in such circumstances as these that we must hold fast to the core teachings found in today’s Gospel reading: Jesus the Messiah is none other than the Son of God, and this Son of God would have us practice love of God and of neighbor—always and everywhere, no matter the cost, till the day we die. For the sake of him who suffered on the cross for love of us, let’s not let him down!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.