How Jesus’s subversive call to love continues to challenge us
a Homily for Proper 25A | Text: Matthew 22:34-46
Love GOD. Love neighbor. This is the basis for all of our teaching. We can see it, too. When we read those first five books of our sacred scripture, those written in Hebrew, we see it. When we read the psalms and the prophets, we see it. And in those accounts in Greek, that reveal truth in the life and work of Jesus, we see it there, too.
Unlocking the scriptures like a key, this simple law of faith and order.
Love GOD. Love neighbor. Everything else comes from these.
In the account of this story which we call Mark’s, the question is asked of Jesus by a scribe and the scribe commends Jesus’s response. He hears Jesus and says back the equivalent of “I definitely see it. That’s totally it.”
We receive this teaching at the end of a barrage of questions and tricks and traps by the leaders of the faith. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes and they have all tried to trick Him: to get Jesus to discredit himself or to blaspheme. Tricks that try to get Jesus to say the wrong thing. Tricks to bring him down a peg.
And as we see in the story, the tricks don’t work well for them.
The text, however, gives us a different problem here. No sooner has Jesus talked about love being everything: the foundation for our faith and The Law: but he speaks of violence and oppression.
Son or Lord?
Jesus gives these aggressors his own question. One that isn’t any easier for them to answer than the ones they have just thrown at him.
What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?
I’m not going to pretend that I know what Jesus has in mind when he asks this question, but I know what he expects to hear from these guys. Tell me about the Messiah.
We hear the words “son of…” and we fill in “God”! But of course they would say David. The Messiah would come from David’s line. This is why Matthew traces Jesus’s lineage to David at the beginning of the book. This lineage is important.
This isn’t a trick question in that David is the wrong response. It is a play on the other expectation: that the Messiah would be a warrior king…kind of like David. These two terms: Messiah and Lord: are military terms for conquering and ruling. How could the King of Judah call his son conqueror of all, including him? How could David accept that arrangement? He wouldn’t!
Then it gets worse. Jesus quotes Psalm 110 about conquering enemies and making them his footstool. The psalm goes on to refer to the Lord being at GOD’s right hand, shattering kings and filling nations with corpses.
Tell me again what all this has to do with love?
Who do you love?
I am pretty sure the author has intentionally put these side by side.
Love everybody | Lord SMASH!
Intellectually, I think it has to do with all of these questions about who Jesus is supposed to be and what kind of box these leaders are trying to put Jesus into. Is he a crackpot, a revolutionary, a heretic? Can he be intimidated, debated, or defeated? They have been asking about what Jesus is made of.
But Jesus’s question isn’t so much what they think he’s made of, but what it is they are expecting the incarnate one to be made of. Will he be like David? And the picture he gives them is frightening.
A portrait of love
What if they didn’t think of David and of kings and lords. What if they thought, instead of what Jesus had just said. Not of shattering our enemies and using them as footstools: that the Messiah would be a different kind of leader for the people, calling them to wage acts of love and reconciliation, rather than war and terror? What if their minds went to The Law, the true heart of The Law: Love GOD. Love neighbors.: rather than defeating enemies? Would they see that Jesus has already painted a different portrait? That his ministry showed a completely different approach? That standing before them was this very new-look messiah?
He didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a war horse like Pilate the other day, he came on a donkey. You expect the Messiah to overthrow the leadership in a bloody coup d’etat. But Jesus offers a different kind of revolution and transformation. We should get that! When Jesus starts sounding a lot like a general, we should be clued into the fact that he is revealing our motives, like he reveals the Pharisees’.
And Peter’s. When Peter calls him Messiah and moments later, Jesus calls him Satan.
We struggle with the Great Commandment because when it is anything but abstract: Love Everybody: it gets really hard! Can any of us honestly turn to the person next to us and say “I love the members of ISIS as I love myself.”
But when we say “I can’t do that” we are no different from these Pharisees, I’m no better.
I think this is why these two pieces are ultimately tied together. Because our loving GOD [not just our love for GOD, but the love we give to and share with GOD] and the love we give to our neighbors is all one thing. We aren’t loving GOD when we are condemning our neighbor, right? Elsewhere Jesus says that whenever we ignore the homeless or the needy, we’re ignoring Him. Each act of love is intertwined between GOD and our neighbors.
This shift to the Messiah, then reveals how we think GOD incarnates in the world: how GOD comes here and what GOD comes to do. Many of our ancestors [and many of our neighbors today] see GOD as not loving neighbor, but killing neighbors for us.
That’s not how GOD did incarnate. That wasn’t Jesus in the flesh. Jesus didn’t tell us to love, then went and shattered the kings. Jesus loved. Everybody.
First is love
At convention this weekend, we learned about Holy Currencies, which I really think could be a good thing for us. It speaks to giving in a whole variety of ways, but it is more about honor, respect, and love for each other: what we do, who we are, and what we can offer to GOD.
We challenged next year’s Convention planners to adopt a model for our diocesan convention that did not simply open with a perfunctory prayer, but involved prayer and Bible study, so that we might be more open to what the Spirit is guiding us toward.
And we were challenged to engage in interfaith dialogue in our local communities; that we might better know and understand our neighbors; that ultimately we might love them.
I like to remind myself and my friends that Jesus never said this was easy. Nor did he say just try as hard as you can. Instead, he shows us what love looks like. And he expects us to put that first. Not revenge or fear or animosity. Love them. Because how we deal with conflict, from Sudan or the Middle East to our siblings or next-door neighbors can only go in GODly direction when we begin with love, respecting their dignity as a human being.
That’s where we’ll find real solutions. Not just our way. GOD’s way.