Last Sunday after Trinity
Introduction and Call to Worship
Today we are reminded of God’s commandment to love him with all that is within us and to love our neighbour as ourselves. With our hearts open to Christ’s call to love – to living discipleship – we worship God who loves us first and strengthens us through his Holy Spirit.
First Reading Leviticus 19:1-2. 15-18
We hear God’s commandments about how his people, who are called to holiness, are to relate to each other with love and justice.
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Paul speaks of how he shared the Gospel of God with the people of Thessalonica with gentleness and love, offering himself freely in service to them.
Gospel Matthew 22:34-46
Jesus is once again challenged by religious leaders in Jerusalem, and challenges them back.
HOMILY “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
We ask each other questions for all sorts of reasons. We greet each other saying, “Hello, how are you?” A traveller at Virginia Water Station might ask, “What time is the next train to London?” A doctor at St Peter’s A&E assesses a patient’s condition, asking, “Where does it hurt? What sort of pain is it?” Questions are also asked to test our knowledge, sometimes for fun in things like quizzes (usually challenging questions if prepared by our own Ritchie) and sometimes in more serious contexts like exams and interviews, which students from TASIS know all about. In these latter cases we may have to think very hard about a question, to work out what its main point is and what information or arguments are being sought. To do this we draw upon the knowledge we have accumulated through study – and experience – well at least that is the idea! Hopefully, examinations of whatever kind don’t deliberately seek to catch candidates out; they just want them to delve deeply into their store of knowledge and experience. Yet being ‘caught on the hop’ can be how we feel when asked about our faith.
When people know we go to church – and I know that for various reasons not everyone feels able to tell others they do – we are often asked questions about God; this can feel like a ‘test’ but it is more a case of people who don’t know or really understand our faith trying to get to grips with theological matters. These could include questions about suffering, rules in the bible, love or injustice. They may simply not understand why we give up an hour or so on a Sunday to come to this place – yet there is so much that is wonderful here – glorious – for us to share!
In today’s Gospel for the last Sunday after Trinity, we hear those attempts continuing. The questions are hostile as the Pharisees seem to conspire against our Lord. They desire a response from Jesus that could lead to a charge against him of either blasphemy under Jewish law or insurrection against Roman law. How should he respond to this attempt to lure him into self-incrimination? How would we respond to such questioning?
Today the Media are very good at this – asking politicians, community leaders, bishops and many others hypothetical questions to which there is, it would seem, no straight-forward answer. If one person answers with a slightly different or less certain answer to another the suggestion is that an organisation, or even government, is divided; or worse, some form of rebellion is afoot. The Church, as an organisation, seems to fall foul of this approach on a regular basis. Many find it hard to understand how we can be united while holding differing views and opinions, as if the scriptures presented a black and white template to which we must conform like clones on a mechanical production line. It has perhaps ever been thus, as they ask Jesus “which commandment in the law is the greatest”. His answer could cause his disciples to ask for clarity, “Lord, what is the party line on this one?” Now, by my reckoning there are at least 613 commandments of God to the Hebrew people found in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures), and Jesus, as a teacher, would have been expected to know them. And these commandments were equally binding, so if Jesus suggested that one commandment takes precedence over the others he could be accused of repudiating and annulling the Law of God.
Our Lord can see their dastardly plan – he is no fool – he is God’s Son, the King of all time and eternity, and he answers their question in a traditional way, albeit with his own twist as he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This forms part of a prayer used twice daily by devout Jews then and still today. He links this verse with part of a verse from Leviticus 19, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” in a way not previously used in Jewish writings, and finishes off his reply by saying that all the other commandments “hang” on these two. What Jesus is saying is that these two great commandments underpin the others, and this is mirrored in his teaching to the disciples on the eve of his crucifixion when he says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34, 35)
This is indeed a wonderful commandment, a New Testament twist on what has always gone before; it comes from the creativity of God who pours out his love upon all things created, all people including us here today! We experience that love in our relationships with one another – the family of faith – and we are called as disciples to share that love far and wide that others too may be drawn into God’s love. Therefore, discipleship is about the way we love and how we show that love. To be a Christian is to share God’s love for everyone and this is an inclusive call to love. Remember how the Old Testament Law (Genesis 1:27) tells us that God made us in his own image, so it is in this context that we should always approach others, recognising the image of the Divine mirrored in each one of us - our neighbours, friends and family – those we find it easy to love and those with whom we struggle also – especially them.
In this context are we still concerned about what we should say when people ask us questions about our faith? We need not be, because Jesus has answered every imaginable question with the greatest commandment of all – love. As Christians we come to church to worship God in this beautiful house of prayer – our spiritual home – to learn about the scriptures, to be fed spiritually and physically, and to build up the family bond of friendship that exists between us. Then we go out into the world to live out that faith in love – to mediate God’s love as disciples today, not afraid to talk about our faith, rather willing to share our journey with others, including our struggles that more and more people will catch a glimpse of God’s love and as a result follow the path that leads to faith and ultimately life.
Friends in faith, the commandment to love God cannot be separated from the commandment to love others and to treat them as we ourselves would wish to be treated. Perhaps Jesus is suggesting that we need to think about balance in our lives: the way we’re influenced by our thoughts and feelings and where our priorities lie, or to put it another way, how we love daily as disciples of Christ. Amen.
Jesus is questioned by Pharisees in Jerusalem about which of God’s commandments is the greatest.
Jesus replies quoting verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus which, he says, underpin all the other commandments.
We are challenged to think about our own faith journeys and whether we are putting our hearts, souls and minds into loving God and our neighbours as ourselves.