According to the Gospel Reading for today, Matthew 22: 36-40, when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
So the Pharisees said, “OK then, Rabbi, what’s the THIRD greatest commandment? Hmmmm?”
You know them. They are all around us: people who want to win an argument rather than come to a mutual understanding of the truth. It’s probably ingrained into us from an early age: be sure to get your facts in a row and overpower your adversaries with words, with questions, with challenges.
“OK Rabbi, you won those…but what about the EIGHTH greatest commandment? What about THAT one?”
And now we’re in a game that nobody is going to win.
But we argue in that fashion too, don’t we? “Listen, God, I’m with you on all this, but what about that passage in First Timothy where Paul says ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men?’… How do I reconcile that?” Isn’t that what we’re saying today? Hasn’t that kind of questioning gotten a secure foothold in our minds?
Now we’re in “the silly season.” It will end on Election Day in November, but the echoes will reverberate for weeks after. Don’t you just dread it? Day after day of political commercials where the candidates say to each other, “Sure, but what about your position on the 47th greatest law? What do you say to that?” There’s no end. And there’s rarely a satisfactory answer, because we are not arguing to solve a problem or to help each other in this society. We’re arguing to score points with…with…with whom? “The Base.” “The Donors.” “That minority group.” “This constituent.”
I’ll tell you the worst politician of the last century: Mother Teresa. She said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” She’d lose an election by a record number; and probably a theological argument, too. Because she wasn’t in it to score points, but to sooth souls and bodies.
But what are we to do? Surely there will be those who want to assail us, to win us over, to knock us down. This isn’t a fairy tale; it’s real life. How are we to stand against those tempests?
“I love you, O LORD, my strength, O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” This is our faith. Is it not protection enough?
“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth…but in every place your faith in God has gone forth…” This is our hope. That we will all go forth with the Lord’s words on our lips.
“If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset…” This is the love that we are enjoined to give and to show.
Because what is the right answer to reply with in the debate? Do we keep a Bible and a concordance by our side so that we can immediately find the right answer? Do we have our “talking points” all memorized and even on file cards so we can win any argument?
If you really want to have the final word on the subject…any subject…and you feel you need to express it, then what better quote to pull out of your Biblical quiver than the one we heard this morning: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Amen Ephesians 3:14-19