The Example of Perfect Love
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Year A, Proper 25, RCL, Track 2
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46
Our story today continues a long question and answer session between Jesus and some Jewish leaders. Over the last weeks, we hear Jesus questioned about his authority and paying taxes, and his telling of three parables demonstrating how the kingdom of heaven is different from our reality. Today in the final exchange, we hear the greatest commandment. All of this took place on a Tuesday, just three days before Jesus’ execution. After this lengthy exchange, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians are tired of being made out as fools and they no longer have any interest in tripping up Jesus. He has outsmarted them left and right and as much as they have tried, there is no way to get him to incriminate himself.
The question that the Pharisee asks Jesus today is of grave importance. He asks Jesus to identify the greatest commandment? Or we could look at this as asking what sin is the greatest? Jesus doesn’t choose one of the ten. Instead, he summarizes all ten into two. He then says, “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.” This summery of the first four commandments are about our loves, and honor for God. Jesus points to this as the first commandment because without being in a right relationship with God, and knowing God’s love and forgiveness, it would be much more difficult for us to follow the rest of the commandments. These other six commandments are about living in community with one another or as Jesus summarizes, “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
When we know God as the example of perfect love; then the doors open for us to love others, no matter how different they may be or difficult it may seem. If God is the example of ultimate forgiveness; then somewhere within ourselves we have the ability to forgive others no matter what they have done. God sent his Son so that we can be assured of this fact.
The second part of Jesus’ summary of the Law often raises the question; who is my neighbor. When we look at Leviticus, we find this identical phrase, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is clear from the Old Testament perspective that your neighbors were more than you kin or close acquaintance. Your neighbors were the people you would recognize in your life. You may not know them well, you didn’t necessarily have to know their name. These would be the people you see at the post office or the grocery store. People you recognize on some level as being part of the greater community. Yet through Christ, many biblical concepts get expanded.
Jesus gives us a much broader definition which is most clearly given to us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Though we didn’t read this today, you may remember the story. From Luke’s Gospel perspective, an expert in the law asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with the same summary of the Law that we heard today. Then the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example.
As you may recall, a man was attacked by robbers; stripped, beaten, and left for dead. A priest happened to see the man on his path. He crosses to the opposite side of the street to avoid him. The same thing happens when a Levite sees the man. But the third man, a Samaritan, picks the injured man up and pays for him to be taken care of.
Samaritans were not recognized as being part of the Jewish society. They were to be avoided at all costs. Yet here this Samaritan, a complete stranger, takes care of another stranger. And when Jesus asks, “Which of these men was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert of the law says the Samaritan.
The concept of neighbor is extended in the New Testament way beyond the people we recognize to include everyone we encounter. This may most clearly be demonstrated in this parable but this definition of neighbor is also exemplified throughout the entire Gospel. We see it in Christ’s interactions towards others; men, women, clean, unclean, prostitutes, tax collectors, and believe or not even children. In fulfilling the law Jesus expands neighbor to include all people we meet, even those who society says we shouldn’t associate with. And Jesus says to us, love our neighbor as ourselves.
We can look at our lives and see whether we are as generous to strangers as we are to ourselves; Whether we care for the children in poor neighborhoods as we do for our own; Whether we truly love our neighbors as ourselves. It is likely that we all fall short of this commandment as we do many, including the first, loving God above all else. But this is not the end of our story. We can continually seek God’s love and recognize God’s love in our lives. By knowing God’s love we will be transformed by this love, and strive to embrace all people with this same abundant love. Then we can be transformed by God’s love, and strive to embrace all people with this same abundant love.