May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our God and Our Redeemer.
Today’s gospel is one that we have all heard many times, it’s short and sweet and epitomises what it means to be a Christian. In the words of Jesus that we hear today we see the whole Gospel, the whole Judeo-Christian system summed up in one word; love!
To fully appreciate what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel it’s important that we take a closer look at where it is located within the scriptures and what is going on in Christ’s life. If we examine the previous chapter of Matthew we see that Christ is nearing the end of his earthly mission. He has recently had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with throngs celebrating and lining the road with palms at a time when the city was full of people gathered to celebrate the Passover.
For a moment, I want you to put yourselves in the place of the Jewish establishment. The city is full to overflowing with people come to celebrate at the Temple. There is a sense of expectation amongst the people; expectation of celebration, but also a sense of imminent redemption. Passover is the celebration of the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt and a type and shadow of the future redemption of Israel by the Messiah. The Roman occupiers are pressuring the Jewish leaders to control to crowd or face consequences. And amongst all of this an upstart preacher from Galilee is welcomed into the city like a king; how would this make you feel, what would you do?
As we examine how we might feel if we were the Jewish leaders I am sure that ideas of worry, fear, and concern enter our minds. I certainly know it did me; how can I retain my power, how can I calm the mod so that the Roman occupiers don’t react badly, how can I put this up-start preacher in his place; and it is precisely here that the Jewish establishment went. From examining the scriptures the period after Jesus entered Jerusalem was a time where the Pharisees and Sadducees tried time and again to trap Jesus and show the people that he was a fraud and most certainly not the messiah.
While in the Temple the Jewish leaders tried to question Christ’s authority to teach. However. Knowing the intent of their heart Jesus quickly turned the question back on the leaders in such a way that it was clear to all that Jesus was not just another teacher. Having failed once, they again tried to trap Jesus by asking him about taxes.
Asking a preacher about taxes while they’re preaching and teaching in Church may seem a little weird to us now. However, we have to remember that at the time of Christ the Jewish people were oppressed and occupied by the Romans whom they despised and wanted to overthrow. By asking Jesus about taxed the Pharisees were hoping to use the Roman’s against Jesus. If he said not to pay taxes the people would celebrate him by the Roman authorities would arrest him for sedition; if he said to pay taxes, then the gathered Jews would likely turn against him. However as before, Jesus confounds the Pharisees by giving a truly inspired response.
Now you’d think after two failed attempts the Pharisees and Sadducees might stop, but they didn’t. In true tag team style the Pharisees retreated to contemplate their interaction with Christ whilst the Sadducees made an attempt to discredit him. This time they tried to trap Jesus teaching immorality regarding marriage and to prove his belief in the resurrection as false. However, again, Jesus could see through there plan and he shot down their flawed understanding of sacred matters.
It is at this point that today’s reading fits into the story; after multiple attempts to discredit Jesus the Jewish establishment tries one last time. The Pharisees think they’re onto a winner and ask Christ to tell them what the greatest commandment is. In the mind of the Pharisees is Jesus puts his foot wrong here he will have committed blasphemy and in the Jewish system that would mean death! However, true to his form Jesus doesn’t fall into a trap but instead gives an answer that not even the Pharisees and Sadducees can find fault with. Jesus tells them that the greatest commandment is Love; particularly love of God.
So, why is this answer so perfect? Why did it stop the establishment in their tracks and start them planning a much more direct and drastic course to rid themselves of Jesus? It was because there was no way that they could combat the truth of Jesus which was evidently of divine origin.
When I examine this reading I am always drawn to a phrase at the end as being the crux of the message: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments”. Jesus tells us that everything we have ever been asked to do by God is based on love. Our hearts and our lives should be full of love if we are to be true followers of Christ.
In rebuffing the trap of the Pharisees Jesus was not rejecting their teachings, he wasn’t saying anything revolutionary. Instead he was confirming what had been taught by all the prophets and teachers of God; he was simply stating that the primary objective of all truth is love.
It is this love that should motivate all that we do. Our dear Presiding Bishop has said to me many time that we may be the only Bible a person ever reads and the only sermon they ever hear; it’s for this reason that I truly believe love is key. If we look at all people with the love of God, if love motivates our thoughts, our words and our actions then others will feel motivated to do the same. If we could all live the perfect love of God then the Kingdom of Heaven would truly be found on earth.
I want to challenge each and every one of us this week to go out of our way to demonstrate this love. Before we leave our homes let’s pray that the love of God may flow through us and motivate everything we do. If we can do this I know that we will touch the lives of many around us, even if we don’t realise it.
Be the love is going to be my motto this week and I hope that it will be yours too!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, a d of the Holy Spirit. Amen.