Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
There are 613 commandments in the Torah, strictly speaking, the first five books of the bible. These commandments/laws are called “halakhah,”(ha low ha) and they govern how to function in many areas of life: “what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to groom yourself, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and Shabbat, how to treat G-d, other people, and animals.” Halakhah is not, however, a checklist; the word has more of the sense of “the path that one walks.” (jewfaq.org)
You can imagine, then, people being what we are, that there have been countless conversations about these laws. Which one is the most important? The question put to Jesus is a trick one – it is not a simple question of rank or importance in the law. We remember that Jesus was perceived to have broken the law by healing on the Sabbath … let’s take a look a little deeper …
The stories that we have been hearing in Matthew are about the leaders of Jerusalem confronting Jesus: the chief priest and elders question Jesus’ authority (21:23-27); the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees have questioned him about taxes, resurrection, and now, the law. This is Jesus’ final trip into Jerusalem; we are only one week away from his crucifixion. The tension is high and building. This third time a leader tries to trap Jesus. How will Jesus answer his question?
A first century lawyer is not the same as a twenty-first century lawyer; a first century lawyer is untangling the meaning of those 613 commandments, and all of the derivative law that comes from them. Whew! That means that a first century lawyer is a theologian, and a learned one at that.
The trick in the question is whether or not Jesus will violate Torah in his answer. Does Jesus know Torah law?
Jesus responds with tools of ancient Judaism: the laws themselves. First, he quotes the Shema from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Jesus goes on to say that there is a second commandment – to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Here, Jesus paraphrases Leviticus 19: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Jesus makes it clear that he knows Torah and that he knows his opponent. We might say that “he fought fire with fire.” Jesus used familiar law, and accurate ones, to get out of a trap.
Whew – from 613 and then some down to two commandments. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” What does that mean? It means that “the way that one walks” needs to consider these two perspectives first: the law of love and the law.
Jesus was accused of violating Torah because he healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus is telling us in this answer that he did not violate Mosaic law. Should you heal someone on the Sabbath? “Of course,” is Jesus’ answer. The law of love, in this case healing, says that you can heal on the Sabbath. We make our own personal piety secondary, lesser, to the law of love. Love wins.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
How about the commandment: you shall not murder? That’s Mosaic law. Here, there is not a lesser law: instead, we radicalize this one. That is to say, if we are above all else to love our neighbors, it is not enough simply not to kill them. We must also not lose our tempers at them, insult them, or call them fools (Matthew 5:21-22).
I would argue that Jesus radicalized both laws: Jesus radicalizes love in showing that healing comes above personal piety. Jesus radicalizes the law against murder. In each case, love wins.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.
Hearing that there are only two commandments sounds so much better than trying to follow hundreds … until we realize how hard it is to follow those two. Time and time again we realize that life is much more complex than what is written in any book. Most of the situations that we encounter are not written down. It is hard to remember that love wins.
We don’t know yet what it looks like for love to win in places and situations like the schools in which children kill other children and themselves. It will take a long time and possibly longer than our earthly lives, to find the love in such horrific situations.
But there is hope. We have hope. God shows Moses the promised land. My perspective on the death of Moses changed this week. I have looked at Moses’ life – and preached on it – from a perspective that “Moses didn’t even get to reach what God promised him.” That is a valid perspective. Moses did not reach the promised land and we might find some application to that situation. But the bible lives. So what if … there’s another perspective? What if:
Seeing what God promised (to Moses) was a gift? Imagine, you have been promised something magnificent from God, and shortly before your death – you are very old, and God let’s you see the fulfillment of God’s promise to you. God shows Moses what lies ahead. Will we not be more peaceful knowing that our future family, more numerous than the stars in the sky, will have what God promised? That puts a whole new perspective on suffering. There is hope. Love wins.
In 1 Thessalonians we hear about difficult times for early Christians: Paul writes that “we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi [and still] we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.”
If we remember the greatest commandment, we have a response to great opposition and trials in their many forms.
Our response is to keep going:
• As close to the promised land as we can get
o We can rejoice in the gift of its promise; maybe God will show us in this life the fulfillment of God’s promises.
o We rejoice.
• We keep going, and share the gospel in spite of great hardship
o On some days and in some places it’s hard for anyone to believe in Jesus Christ who saves us
• We identify, share, and show this love of Christ,
o Because love wins.
[Back to 1 Thessalonians] “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
How we keep going and where we see the completion of God’s promised will be different for every one of us. What’s happening – how is that being done – at St. Peter’s?
Last week we considered where we see God at St. Peter’s. That is living into the knowledge that God wins. We are a group of followers of Christ being the hands and feet of Jesus here and now. Thanks be to God for showing some of the many ways that love wins.
Today we are witness to a group of women who are sharing the gospel with their lives through the physical act of prayer. They are about to become Daughters of the King. What is a DOK?
International order of prayer, service, and evangelism
Prayer: a daughter prays daily
Serves her church and her rector
Encourages others to know Christ
Isn’t this what many people do every day? Yes; a Daughter formalizes this way of living, takes this vow, and wears a special cross as a symbol of that vow.
Why does it matter? It’s rough out there. We live in a difficult world; persons of all religions are persecuted for their faith. We don’t understand how to follow 613 laws, and we find it impossible to follow just two. But we have to try. We have to live into the reality that love wins. Love wins.
The world says: you don’t have time to pray. You are “something else” and cannot also be part of a religious order. The world says, “how weird.” Love says of course you can be all of these things. You can formalize what many of us do already – look at the service that is done here at St. Peter’s! – and you can undergird it with a foundation of prayer.
At its heart (IMHO), that’s what Daughters do. We support everything that is being done with a foundation of prayer – which changes everything. Through the prayer work of Daughters around the world, places are transformed. I believe the same can be true at St. Peter’s and in the Diocese of Rochester. Through prayer, the Diocese will be transformed. Look – it already is! A group of women in Hornell has been called back into active prayer and a renewed way of life. Some women at St. Peter’s and at St. Luke’s have joined together to be a group of transforming women.
We all have a role; we can all pray. Know in your prayers that others surround and lift that prayer, until a chorus of praying people transforms the world. One prayer, one day, one moment at a time. Because we are finite, but God is not.
Love wins. Amen.