St Bride's: Sermons

The two commandments

Matthew 22:34-40

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34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

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How simple that response sounds: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

It was the correct answer too and it was the basis for the whole of the jewish law that ran to 613 commands.

The lawyer knew this. And he would know too exactly where the texts were to be found: one in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the other in Leviticus 19:18.

The whole of the religious tradition gathered around these two commandments. Indeed, the community's reason for being was to be found there. The Gospel writers took this up, and in fact the three versions of the story, in Matthew, Mark and Luke all appear among the Sunday readings and on several weekdays as well.

So this reduction of the commandments to two, on which 'hang all the law and the prophets' is a familiar part of our tradition too.

For those who remember the old liturgies, it became customary many years ago, even before any deviations were allowed from the Book of Common Prayer, to replace the ten commandments with these two.

But what a tall order!

The ten weren't such a problem. Most of them were common sense. It's clearly wrong to kill people, and it doesn't help if you tell lies. Everyone would agree that stealing is wrong. Though I'm not sure what the modern world should make commandments seven and ten which treat women merely as property.

But these deceptively simple laws. Love, put right at the centre. Love this God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love everyone else as much as you love yourself.

Dwell on this and then think whether you've managed to stick to that at all.

Face it. Where these two basic, foundation commands are concerned we are all total failures.

We clearly don't put God first.

Many of us claim allegiance to him but can't even give up a little of our time to worship him, to demonstrate our love for him in public. And how many could say that in every relationship they have, in every encounter with another person, they display the depth of love they have for their own selves.

I know I couldn't.

So not only is this new commandment difficult, it's well-nigh impossible!

It's not totally impossible of course, for there are people in the world who have achieved a sanctity, a conformity with the will of God which seems to fulfil the demands of the new law. And many of those who are recognised as saints encourage us by their example and support us with their prayer as we strive to follow the will of God for all his people.

Difficult but not impossible.

But there is an important consolation for those who find the enterprise of living recognisable Christian lives such a trial. God's love for us does not depend on our capacity to return it! Striving to keep these commands only makes sense in the light of our perception of the divine love that is already on our side.

So our pilgrimage, our desire to draw closer to God and to keep his commands, is a response to the conviction that God has already drawn close to us.And our desire to learn to love our neighbour as ourselves is a response to the value that God places on each human creature.

By our own efforts the task is impossible, but by the grace and love of God we actually can begin the journey towards the One who reaches out to us in love through his incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. And through the value we realise that this action places on every human creature we can begin the enterprise of building community and placing on others the value they inherently have.

As soon as you get things the right way round, they begin to make sense.

The life of the Church is nothing more than the articulation of our response to the overflowing love of God. The genius of Christianity, the reason we have for recommending it to others is that it holds the truth about God. It is the truth about a God who has made everything that is out of love, who holds everything in being by love. A God who created us out of love and who showed his immense love in human history by taking on our flesh and being born as one of us.

The last Word of love is God's, his Word made flesh. The vocation of the Church is to lead people to a deep relationship with this God. It would be absolute folly if we led people through a minefield of rules and regulations where they could be blown to pieces if they put a foot wrong.

We are called to obedience to only two commandments, not as a means of attracting God's love, but as a way of responding to the love that is already ours. The sense of gathering as God's people to celebrate the eucharist is that it is a significant step in beginning to return God's love by thanking him. To extend that into the gathering that follows is to begin to take seriously the command to recognise God's image in others and to love them. By recognising the love and generosity of God towards us all the Church could be, should be the best springboard there is for effective social action.

Living the love of God begins here, at this table, for us who recognise that love and ache to respond to this free and unmerited gift. Into this feast we wish to put the height of our creativity and commitment, simply because God is God and so good.We must seek to live that love too in our care for one another, for the breaking down of barriers and the relief of want and suffering among those for whom Christ came on earth.

On these two commandments hang the whole of the law and the prophets also.

They are Gospel imperatives.

 

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