(Bible Study Group at the Hopedale Moravian Church in Labrador)
Being Faithful in the Small Things
By Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Matthew 22:34-46
The Bible is a pretty big book, and for most of us, it is rather intimidating. But in this week’s scripture passage, Jesus gives us the really, really condensed version. All we need to do is love God and love each other as much as we love ourselves.
It comes down to something relatively easy to grasp. It’s not the big things; it is the many small things and the daily acts of devotion and love that make a difference in the world. In a world full of hate and division, we are called to share in simple acts of compassion, encourage someone who is struggling, call or write someone who is lonely, and smile.
Our scripture lesson this week continues a series of interactions that Jesus has had with the religious leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem. These all occur in the days that follow the Palm Sunday procession into the city. Since his arrival, Jesus has cleared the temple floor to make it available as a place of prayer for all people. Jesus has told parables about the sons of a vineyard owner, wicket tenants of a vineyard, and a king and his wedding guests. And then he is asked a sticky question about whether or not to pay taxes to the Ceasar. The leaders of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians have been tag-teaming their questions to Jesus, trying to trip him up, and this continues with our reading this week.
This time, it is the Pharisees with a question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” By “the law,” they refer to the Torah or the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. So Jesus
Interestingly, this person comes to Jesus and asks for the most important commandment of all the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. Because as challenging as it was to keep them all, there was always a great debate among scholars about how they were to be prioritized. So, this scribe asks for THE greatest commandment.
Jesus’ first response was a predictable one as he recites the command found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Jesus answered, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This would have been the most familiar Scripture passage to anyone in that region: Jew or Gentile. Jesus could have easily left it right there since he had answered the question posed to him.
Instead, Jesus goes a significant step further and picks up the critical theme of caring for others. Jesus here is referring to: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as
yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34. So, taking this concept from the Hebrew scriptures, Jesus connects the love of God to the love of both self and neighbor. He is saying that if we don’t love our neighbor, then our love of God might prove to be quite shallow and self-serving rather than self-giving.
While all of this is not difficult to understand, living it out in the world is much harder to do.
Let’s unpack these two commandments. First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind! This invites us to love God with all of who we are: our hearts, the depth of our souls, and yes, our minds too. This calls us to read the scriptures, dialog with others, and think on our own.
Furthermore, to love God means to love what God has created. If God saw that each stage of creation was good, so should we. This invites us to love and care for the creation we see around us. And to take this one step further, since we are a part of this incredible creation, we can be assured that God’s image is stamped down deep inside us. As such, we ought to love ourselves with deep conviction.
As Jesus spins out this teaching, we learn that if we genuinely love God and acknowledge God’s image in our souls, we must also love others. Even if others think, talk, dress, believe, and worship differently, they too bear God’s image deep within them. Even if they express their political views differently, they too bear God’s image. Our country is tearing itself apart at the political seams right now, even within party lines! We Christians need to show a better way, and we can! This does not mean that we need to agree with everybody or think like them, but it does mean that we need to love them.
I truly appreciate William Barclay’s observation about this text:
“Take away the love of God, and we can become angry with others who seem unteachable; we become pessimistic about others who seem unimprovable; we become callous to others who seem out of touch. The ability to love what seems unlovable is clearly grounded in the love of God first. “
Sometimes, we overthink and overwhelm ourselves with what it means to follow Christ. How do you begin a 1,000-mile journey? One step at a time. And here, we start with small steps and take care of the small things like using our time, sharing our talents, and giving our financial support to the church and other worthy organizations. It begins with loving God with every ounce of our body, mind, and soul and then quickly moves to loving others.
No matter how daunting understanding the Bible might be, the two most important things to remember are to love God with everything we have and extend God’s love to others. Rachel Held Evans once wrote: “Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our teacher by imitating his posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called a life of presence, of kindness.”
This alone, my friends, has the potential to change the world drastically!