Words to hang on to
The events that took place in the passage we have heard from Matthew’s Gospel are part of the week that Jesus spent with the disciples in Jerusalem after his coming into the city riding on a donkey. The time had come for Jesus to bring his message from the region of Galilee to the spiritual centre of the people. And what better time to come to Jerusalem than at the time of the celebration of the Passover. In it the people remember how they had been delivered from the hand of an oppressor not by their strength or wisdom but by the strength and wisdom of the one they knew as the great “I AM” – the ground of all creation. Further they had been guided, nourished and strengthened through their time in the desert to be able to take hold of a land that was destined by their God to be their homeland – a place they could call their own and no longer be a people in someone else’s land. And the people never forgot what that journey meant to those who were there. The memory of it would never pass from the collective memory of the people.
During the time between his coming to Jerusalem and the night he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, Jesus was in the temple area interacting with the people, healing, and continuing to reinforce the message he had preached for the last three years. His presence was refreshing and life-giving to many but had caused great concern to others. In this passage the Pharisees try to trick Jesus into committing treason against the Roman Empire; then the Sadducees try to trip him up on a point of Scripture. Finally, the Pharisees take another stab at it and attempt to trap him with the question of which commandment is the greatest.
“Teacher,” one of them asks,” which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answers with the words that he spoke in other places and at other times but ones that ever need repeating: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind. That is the greatest, the first commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. Everything in the law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments.” The simplicity of Jesus’ response is clear.
These two commandments are the core of what it means to be the people God has created us to be. Remembering them and living them guide us as we seek to respond to the situations and dilemmas that we face in our lives as individuals and as a community of faith in this place, nationally and globally. To love our God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength and to respond to our neighbours both near and far in ways that reflect the love and respect we are to have for own selves, this is the heart of our life as God’s people.
We live today in a world that is much larger than was ever imagined in the time when the New Testament was written; but we are also living in a world that is much smaller in so many ways. The interaction of different races, cultures and philosophies is challenging to us; but the basic directives given by God have not changed. The two greatest commandments given to us by Jesus are a summary of everything God has ever spoken. To write them on our hands, to place them on our doorsteps, to recite them with our children; this is the mission of the people of God. This is to be the response of followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.
Let us remember that God came in Christ with a message that the people who had journeyed with God through the generations needed to hear; and it remains the central message that every generation that has lived has needed to hear and the one that we ever need to hear. It is a message of hope, a message of forgiveness, a message of peace, a message of love. That message is sealed in the blood and sacrifice of the One who becomes for us the Lamb of God who not only frees us from the sin that binds us but gives us the hope of living in a world that will truly embrace the principles and will of God forever.
May the One who revealed himself to the world in the person of Jesus and who continues to reveal himself in the Spirit amongst us grant us encouragement to embrace these two commandments and let them be the focus of our response to God and to our neighbours. And our God will bring us peace and hope, forgiveness, and love as we continue this journey – our journey – together.