Theme(s): Loving God, loving neighbour // The Great Commandment //
Sentence: Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)
your covenant is firm;
be merciful to us,
and grant us to live in your presence, ever singing your praise;
with Jesus, the Way,
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
OT (related): Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Psalm (related): Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
This reading gives the context for the 'second commandment' (see gospel reading below): love your neighbour as yourself. Israel is to be holy (1-2) yet also kind to the poor (9-10), respectful of neighbours (including, by not stealing from them or lying about them, 11-14). Holy Israel is to treat people justly, especially 'neighbours' (15-16) and lovingly (with a love that forbids hatred yet may reprove, 17-18).
Thinking along these lines, 'love your neighbour as yourself' (18) is a neat summing up of what has gone before and a handy guide to general conduct: since we treat ourselves justly, even generously, do not defraud ourselves, occasionally reprove ourselves and often speak well of ourselves (see verses 9-18) we can safely say that for other aspects of life, what we would do to ourselves is a benchmark for the way we should love our neighbours.
Given the use of Psalm 110 in the gospel reading below, it may be surprising that Psalm 1 is the 'related' psalm for today. This psalm speaks of two approaches to the law, one affirming and obedient, the other denying and disobedient. From that perspective common ground with the reading lies in Jesus affirmation of the two greatest commandments as a summary of the law and the prophets.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Paul reminisces about his gospel ministry among the Thessalonian Christians but this is scarcely an exercise in nostalgia as he laces his memories with theological affirmations.
Three matters stand out:
Paul and his companions preached the gospel to obey and honour God. Convinced that this was their calling (as the sent ones or apostles of Christ, see 'apostles of Christ', v. 7), they preached in the face of opposition (2, 4, 8).
Their preaching was from pure motives (including pleasing God) and their content and style avoided pleasing men and women ahead of honouring God (4, 6).
Their preaching ministry was pastoral (7b) and personal (8b). While the content of their message - entrusted to them by God (4) - was important, their role was not simply to impart a set of words. They cared for their hearers (7b) and they engaged with them in such a way that they shared their lives with them (8b).
Jesus turns the tables on his interlocutors!
Matthew 23 will be the damning conclusion (against the scribes and Pharisees) of this part of the gospel which has seen an ongoing series of traps set for Jesus, each of which he springs free from. In this last part of chapter 22 there is a final question from the Pharisees (22:34-39, after a failed attempt from the Sadducees, not part of this sequence in the lectionary, 22:23-33). Then Jesus himself poses a question to the Pharisees (22:40-46).
The question put to Jesus scarcely holds any traps (36) and Jesus answers it not only with ease but with an irrefutable simplicity: the greatest commandment is this ... a second great commandment is that ... (37-39). To this day this 'summary of the Law' is imprinted on the minds of most Christians. It reflects a simple but important division of perspectives, upwards (to God) and outwards (to others).
What might be useful in our reflections via a sermon is less pondering on these two commandments as a summary of 'the law' (40) and more thought on these two commandments as something on which 'hang' both 'the law and the prophets' (40).
One thought is this: 'the law and the prophets' is effectively a summary of what we now call 'the Old Testament' (including Psalms and wisdom literature). Jesus - the biblical interpreter par excellence - is saying that the summary of the whole of the OT consists of these two commandments.
Given that some biblical scholars argue that there is no 'centre' to the OT nor overarching thematic structure (which is true to a considerable extent), nevertheless the greatest OT scholar of them all is saying, the diversity of the OT is unified around these two points.
The first part of our gospel reading is remarkably clear, memorable and straightforward to explain. The second part (41-46), much less so because it involves some riddle wordplay around the words 'Lord/lord'.
In this part of the dialogue Jesus has gone on the offensive: he asks the questions of his questioners.
What he is trying to draw out from them is recognition that the Messiah is God's Son as well as David's son (i.e. descendant of David). When they are answer his question with 'The son of David', they answer correctly, competently and incompletely.
Jesus draws their attention to Psalm 110:1. Jesus knows that they know this text, but it seems to have slipped from their memories. This text makes the unexpected point - when sons normally defer to their fathers and not the other way around - that David says that the Lord (God) addressed his son as 'my Lord'.
When Jesus asks the pointed question which challenges the incompleteness of their first answer (45), the Pharisees do what many a politician does in an interview: 'duck for cover'!
For Christian readers of Matthew's Gospel there was no need for Matthew to explain the citation from Psalm 110 any further. This psalm was a favourite 'Messianic Psalm' of the early church which often drew on it to expound the relationship between Jesus and God (see also Acts 2:34,35; Hebrews 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 10:13).