Saturday, November 3, 2012

November 4, 2012 - Two Great Commandments

Mark 12.28-34 – The Great and Second Commandments
Stewardship Commitment/Communion Sunday

            Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. The story begins in Mark 11 with the Palm Sunday parade coming down from the Mount of Olives. The parade is great; the crowd is fired up at the sight; but his arrival leaves a lot to be desired. At the end of the parade, Jesus limited himself to looking around much as a tourist would. Then, he leaves city for the Mt of Olives and Bethany again.
            The next day he returns to the Temple and he is outraged by what he sees. People are buying and selling all over the Temple. People are delivering wares, carrying crates and pulling carts through the center of the Temple itself. He makes a whip out of cords and begins to drive the moneychangers out. He tells them,
            “It is written in the Scriptures that God said:
            “My house shall be a house of prayer for the people of all nations,
                        but you have made it a den of thieves.”

And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. As you can imagine, he disrupted the everyday business of the Temple. As you can imagine, he got everyone’s attention. But worse, when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they started looking for a way to kill him, for they were afraid of him (Mk 11.18).
            Thus began a series of challenges to Jesus – this upstart rabbi from Galilee. Who is he to set the rules? Who is he to challenge our ways?
1.      The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and challenged him: “By what authority are you doing these things?”
2.      In response, Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants which they correctly understand to be directed against them.
3.      Some Herodians came to trap him with a question about paying taxes. “Do we dishonor God by paying taxes to Caesar?” If he dishonors Caesar, the Romans will arrest him; if he dishonors God, the crowds will reject him. Either way they do away with this Jesus.
4.      The Sadducees challenge him to defend his claims about eternal life. They concocted a hypothetical story about a man who dies and leaves a widow, who is married by each of his six brothers in turn – each dying one by one, leaving her with no children and him with no heir. So in heaven, whose wife will she be?
Each of these challenges was thrown up to Jesus like questions in a Presidential primary debate. The idea is to catch him in his words, to make him look out of touch, or simply to prove that he does not know what he is talking about – much like the debates. But Rabbi Jesus answers each question deftly and wisely. His popularity with the crowds and the adoration of his followers only grows.
II.  Last of all, a scribe asks him “Rabbi, what is the greatest commandment? How do you read the Law?” It was actually a common question put to any rabbi who stood up to teach. It was a shorthand way of asking him to declare the core of the Law.
A. [Illus: Hillel]
            A stranger came before the great Rabbi Hillel, and said to him: “Teach me the whole Torah while I'm standing on one foot."
            Hillel replied: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary!"

B. Now, it is Jesus’ turn. In the context of the gotcha debates over the preceding chapter, this is just another effort to catch Jesus in his words. OR, maybe the scribe was ready to hear, ready to be a learner. As the scribe states his question, the crowd gathers closer to hear Jesus’ answer. They want to hear how he responds.
            Jesus gives them a bit more than the scribe asked.
The first is this: You shall love the Lord your God
            with heart and soul and mind and strength.
And the second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is one answer; the two great commandments must be taken together and separately – all at the same time.

C. The commandment to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength addresses the basic commitment of our lives. It calls us to stand turned toward God in all times, on all matters, in all places. To love the Lord with heart and soul and mind and strength is to love what God loves. The commandment assumes that there are many voices calling for our allegiance; it says: In a world of competing voices calling for our attention, turn in all things toward God.

D. The second commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is just as familiar to us as the first, but it really is quite odd.
1.      To love God with heart, soul, mind and strength is to give to God first place in our hearts. It is commit oneself to follow God with conviction, with deference, and even obedience.
2.      To love the neighbor, on the other hand is none of those things. We do not love the neighbor by following the neighbor with conviction, deference and obedience.
3.      Love of neighbor begins with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12).
4.      But spoken alongside the great commandment to love God, love of neighbor carries the conviction that we honor God as we treat our neighbor with kindness and justice.
5.      Even more: Jesus expanded the definition of the neighbor to include “the other.” When the question about the Great and Second commandments was raised in Luke, the lawyer followed up by asking, “But, who is my neighbor?” To clarify, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
            The Samaritans were the race that pure Jews loved to hate. The Samaritans  commonly harassed Jews traveling between Galilee and Jerusalem, like bullies in a bad neighborhood harassing school kids walking home. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told this wonderful story of generosity and caring extended to the man who was attacked by robbers. The story is told with so much attention to detail that some have wondered if Jesus himself might have been the man left by the side of the road to die.
            POINT: Every religion, every community, every nation teaches us to look out for our own first. Even John Wesley directed Methodists to attend first to the needs of those in the “household of faith.” But, Jesus transcends that narrow definition of the neighbor to include specifically THE OTHER – the enemy, the last, the least and the lost. And thus, Jesus’ call to love the neighbor calls us to transcend the narrow commitments of even our own Christian faith.
The love of God which demands love of neighbor for completeness finds the holiest moments in the moments we are loving the OTHER:
+caring for those who are least likely to pay us back for our kindness.
+opening our hands to the needy.
+working for justice for those who cannot command it.

III. Finally, by pairing the two great commandments, Jesus is telling us something more than a simple list of two items might convey. The pairing of these two great commandments tells us that there is a necessary connection between the holiness of God and the ordinary. As John said in the Prologue of his gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory – the glory of the only begotten Son” (John 1).
            Someone asked,
+Could you have a baptism without water? No. The finite water is the bearer of the infinite God.
+ Could Christ have come without taking human flesh and walking among us? Again, no. Human flesh of Christ declares that the finite lives and world which we inhabit are fit places for the presence of God.
+Could you have church without an offering? No. The common money we place in the offering plate makes our convictions about the uncommon presence of God real.
+Could you have Holy Communion without bread and wine? No. Ordinary bread and wine are the bearers of the extraordinary blessing of God which finds us at the Table.
[CONCL:] Two invitations arise from these two Great Commandments:
1. As we bring our pledge cards forward to place in the baskets, we place our commitment and the money of this age at the disposal of the Almighty God of the Universe.
2. As we come forward to kneel at the Lord’s Table, we receive in common bread and common wine the touch of the infinite God and the taste of the banquet of the Kingdom of God.

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