Matthew 22:34–46 (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
(Mk 12:28–34; Lk 10:25–28)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Last week we were faced with one of the hardest realities that we must face as followers of Christ. The idea that all that we have really is not ours is something very difficult to consider. That concept that I am sure most of us would rather not dwell on because it goes against much of what we have grown to accept in our cultural identity. There is a reason that it is necessary to bring that concept to light again and again as we traverse the pathway toward eternity, because only when we begin to recognize the reality of stewardship over ownership can we begin to see beyond ourselves to see the image of Christ that is in all people. That one concept defines who is Lord in your life, and I admit that I struggle with that concept daily. I want to own, I want to call something mine, I want to be in control of my own destiny, and to blaze the trail of my own life. I want to be lord… I want to be lord.
Do you see why this simple concept of stewardship verse ownership can be dangerous?
The Pharisees came to Jesus asking Him questions and testing His teachings against their understanding of the Law. They liked how He silenced their opponents in the influence over people. But they needed to determine if He should be considered an ally or an enemy. So one of their leaders, a person that knew the Law intimately, came forward and asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” This question is one that is very similar to the concept of ownership verses stewardship, because at the heart of the question is the idea of control and lordship. What commandment is most important? They ask this question so that I can make sure that one thing could be covered allowing them control over every other aspect of their lives. This question is very important and speaks deeply into the spiritual condition of the first century culture in which Jesus made His advent. There has been a shift from the traditional and historical understanding of faith to something a bit more secular. A few years ago we watched a video called, “Everything is Spiritual” and in that video we were given a view that in ancient Israel there was not a division between that that is spiritual and that that is natural. That true spirituality is holistic incorporating every aspect of who we are as human beings. But this question the Pharisees ask shows an emergence of the compartmentalized human. There is an emergence of an idea that one can separate out and personally own one aspect of our lives and still be considered holy as long as we follow the most important commandments. Where did this foreign concept come from and how did it gain ground among a people set apart for the glory of God? This concept came from the western world, the Greek and Roman influence over the people. This idea of a compartmentalized man comes from the polytheistic culture where one can live as you want as long as you bring sacrifices to the temple to appease the gods.
Jesus answers them saying, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Have you really considered what that command is actually saying? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? In the Gospel of Mark and Luke the same conversation is recorded and they add one other phrase, “with all your strength.” This concept is not new to Jesus but has always been the law, a concept alluded to at least three times in Deuteronomy, but what does it really mean?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The concept of the heart is one with very deep spiritual significance, and there is a reason that it is the first in the list every time this concept is alluded to in scripture. The heart was seen as the center of the man, that core or the very essence of who you are. The heart is the rhythm or the beat to which your life revolves. The wisdom of Solomon says guard your heart with vigilance for from it flows the springs of life. Protect the heart, guard it with vigilance because that is the core or the source of who you are. Now they did not have the medical knowledge we have today, but they knew that there was something very important about the heart because when the heart stopped everything else did as well. The ancient understanding of the heart was that all or our hopes and dreams, our passions and our temptations came from that central beat of the heart. It was necessary to guard our heart not because it was the source of evil but because what we allow deep in the core of our being will be pumped throughout. Love the Lord your God with all your heart means make God central above everything else, allow the spirit of God to course through the veins and capillaries of your life, saturating every aspect of who you are. Letting the rhythm of God become the beat by which you live your life.
Love the Lord your God with all your Soul. The concept of the soul is one of spirit or breath. So love God with every breath. May the love of God will every word that we speak, and may the love of God be a fragrance that we inhale and exhale. It is the breath that connects us to the world around us, it is the air that is filled with the spirit of God from the ancient Jewish point of view. That is why the law required their clothing to have a fringe to represent a connection to the spirit that was surrounding them, plugging them into the essences of God.
Love the Lord your God with all your mind. The word translated as mind means thoughts, intentions, and purposes. So to love God with our mind means letting our all of our thought and actions be directed by the wisdom and spirit of God.
So Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, and Mind literally means every aspect of your life should be devoted to honoring God. Honoring God from your very core, your thoughts and actions and with how you connect with the world around you. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they have corrupted the faith, they have brought in foreign concepts of religion into a lifestyle of devotion to God, and that the first thing that they must do is God back to the faith of their fathers. Live, breath, and become a holistic person made complete in the relationship with God.
We live in a culture that likes to compartmentalize our lives. We like to be able to have our business life, family life, religious life, social life each aspect of our life divided up into nice little boxes where that are easily managed. We like to be lord. Jesus is telling us that that kind of existence is contrary to the life God intends for us to live. That type of life is disconnected and dead, there is no rhythm, no breath, and no mind. This is the very thing that the early Friends saw when they rebelled against the Church of England, a life that was disconnected and compartmentalized. Where people could have facades that they would wear into the steeple houses that were religious and then a totally different face when they went out and lived the other six days of the week. So they said that all of life should be a sacrament, holy and devoted to God.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your Mind. But that is just the beginning. The Pharisees asked for the most important commandment, Jesus gave them two because they are connected. Love your neighbor as yourself. I want us to stop and consider this along with the idea of loving God with all that we have and are, and connect it to the concept of ownership and stewardship. If we are lord the core of what we do is devoted to building ourselves up, but if God is at the core of who we are then the things of God would then be the purpose of everything that we do. Last week Jesus taught us to give the emperor what is the emperor’s and what is God’s to God. It was mentioned last week during our time of open worship that the image of the emperor was stamped on the currency but the image of God is stamped on the human. That image is stamped on every human. So if God is at the core of all that we have then we give all that we have to honor His image that is in every human around us.
Think about that for a bit. Let the laws of God flow through your mind, the dietary laws, the laws about mildew on clothing and in buildings, and the laws of hospitality and fair treatment of even the aliens living among the tribes of Israel. Every aspect of the law is devoted to honoring and preserving the image of God that is present in every human life. Take care of the body, take care of the dwelling places, take care of those around you, honor God with everything that you have because all that you have is not yours but God’s, because everything we have is stamped with His image.
This leads us to a very difficult questions, do we do this? Do we nurture and feed that which is God in ourselves and honor that which is God in those around us, not that we ourselves are divine but because we have the image of God within us. Do we divide our lives up into nice little manageable portions in which we can lord over or do we allow the Spirit of God to course through our veins and become the very essence of who we are and what we do? Do we hoard up the things of this earth stamping our image on them and saying that they are our own or do we allow the image of God to seen on every aspect of who we are? Are we living our lives, every aspect of our lives, our work, family, our community, environment, and our faith, as a sacrament and sacrifice to God? Are we honoring the image of God in our neighbor, even if that neighbor is different than us in some way?
These are very tough questions and if we are honest we each would have to say no. No. Each one of us in some way has failed to love God completely. Each one of us has failed to allow God to completely weld every aspect of our lives together so that we can completely honor God and love our neighbor. But there is hope. Jesus came because we as humans cannot do this alone, all have fallen short, but Jesus who is fully human and fully God did it for us. He took on our humanity, lived the perfect human life for us so that those that call on his name can be joined into his humanity and stand complete before God, not by ourselves but in Him. And if we seek to join Him in His life He will empower us to be made more like Him, molding us to become the people we were created to be, complete in him to love God completely and to love our neighbor. We join Him in his life by making it our customer to worship to or to acknowledge that we are not God. By taking time to withdraw from our daily grind to join with him in prayer in an isolated place speaking to the Father and being filled and directed by the Spirit, breathing in the very breath of God and connecting with Him so that we can then be directed to love and to live the love of Christ with others. That rhythm of life, that holy rhythm shown to us by Jesus Himself is where we will find the strength and the power to live our lives as a sacrament fully devoted and saturated by God. It is in that lifestyle that we can be covered with the life of Jesus where it is not ourselves but Him that people will see, and we give back to God what is his.
Let us now enter into this time of open worship, seeking to Love God with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all our mind, and be directed in how we can love our neighbor as ourselves.