Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
October 27, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
Sermon: "Love is Forgiveness"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 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.' 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." Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet'"? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Love is Forgiveness
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost - October 27, 2002
Recently I have felt caught in the middle, even swamped by the enormous amount of election ads on TV and radio. It is not the fact that the politicians use the medium heavily. It is the manner in which they use the ads. Most of the ads seem to tell me what is wrong with the opposing candidate without giving me the position of the candidate who promoted the ad. Since many of the candidates are utilizing this type of ad I feel caught in the middle. I feel caught between the issues and I am not even sure what the candidates profess. Have you ever felt yourself caught in a similar situation? Perhaps you feel caught by these ads like I do. Maybe you know of other instances where you have felt caught in the middle between two people or two groups of people over some issue? I have felt caught between family members, relatives, friends, and even church groups.
If we know what it is like to be caught in the middle then we are walking in Jesus' shoes in the Gospel reading this morning. He is caught between two groups of Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These two groups have some very different opinions about God and worship. For example, the Sadducees believe that there is no resurrection from the dead. They also believe there is only one true place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem. By contrast, the Pharisees do believe in the resurrection of the dead. They also believe true worship occurs in obeying the Law of Moses. They do not negate the fact that worship is done at the Temple. They do believe worship takes place in the synagogues, which they started throughout the towns and villages.
Prior to our reading this morning Jesus was asked if he believed in the resurrection of the dead by the Sadducees. See they want to know whose side he is on. They want to know which side of the issue he will follow. Jesus' answer really deflates the Sadducees. Now, the Pharisees think he may be on their side of these issues. They want to be sure. So, they gather together and they think of a question to ask Jesus. They believe the answer to their question will test him and see if he believes like they do. They even have their smartest man, a lawyer by trade, to ask the question. Their question concerns the Law. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus could be really caught here. The rabbis of the Pharisees had a total of 613 commandments. They counted these commandments in scripture. They had them divided into two categories. They had 248 positive commandments corresponding to the number of parts of the body they had identified. They also had counted 365 negative commandments, which corresponded to the days of the year. However, the Pharisees also believed that all of these 613 laws or commandments were of equal importance. The question was not only a test of Jesus' position with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The question was also designed to test Jesus' knowledge of the scriptures and authenticity as a teacher of the people of Israel.
Jesus' response blows them out of the water. He responds with a part of the Shema recorded in Deuteronomy. The Shema is the closest thing to a universal creed in all of Judaism. It begins, Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. The statement proclaims that Israel bears allegiance to only one God. The Shema continues with, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." The statement proclaims how we are to love God. The second commandment follows and Jesus proclaims it is like the first, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The Pharisees did not expect this answer. They could not argue against it.
For all of their 613 laws come from these two. It doesn't matter whether the laws are written positively or negatively. All of the law is summed up in these two phrases.
However, there is a point here even more important that we often overlook. We call these two commandments the Summary of the Law. Our language places them first and second with God first and neighbor second. Jesus' words do not place them in a priority rating of number one and number two. Jesus claims the second commandment is like the first. According to Jesus these commandments are not prioritized; they are equal. In other words, if we do not love our neighbor then we cannot love God.
How does this interpretation make us feel? After all, we know we are not in love with our neighbor all the time. In fact, we feel enmity towards our neighbor. I'll bet each of us can think of someone who has hurt us in the past and we still have not forgiven that individual. The person may be someone within our family. The person may be a neighbor. The person may be someone in the church. Somehow we have not forgiven them. We hold the hurt we feel inside and it festers and grows. What are some of the signs of this type of hurt? When we hear the person's name we cringe. The hurt feelings well up inside of us. We may even respond with a negative or distasteful comment about the person. We avoid being in the person's presence. If we know they are going to be at a party or a meeting we excuse ourselves from going. When we think about this person all of the old feelings of hurt start to well up within us. The bottom line is if we live with these feelings and do not address them then we cannot say that we are in love with our neighbor. If we are not in love with our neighbor then we are not in love with God.
The reality of our situation almost sounds hopeless. However, it is not. Jesus came to give us hope. Jesus came to remind us that love is the answer. The key to loving is to practice forgiveness. We practice forgiveness by praying for those who hurt us in word and deed. We practice forgiveness when we openly and honestly share with them how we feel. We practice forgiveness when we ask God to forgive them and to forgive us. For it is only through forgiving those who hurt us that we can experience the fullness of God's incredible love. Only through forgiving, loving our neighbor, can we love God fully as God loves us. Jesus' teaching of the Summary of the Law is no accident. For the summary of the Law is about love. The Summary of the Law is about forgiveness. If we are to be true followers of Christ then we are called to practice forgiveness even when we don't want too.
In a few moments we will baptize Addison McNair Marin. We will make promises in this baptism. We promise to teach her about the life of Jesus. We promise to teach her about the ways of the Church. Most of all we promise to teach her about the love of God. We will have accomplished our task if we do one thing. We can teach Addison how to forgive. Then she will be able to know the fullness, the joy, and the peace of the incredible love of God.