Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Summary of the Law

This article appears in the November 5, 2011 The Guardian as the Guest Sermon.

Many Christians are familiar with the episode in Matthew’s Gospel (22:34-46) when a lawyer attempts to test Jesus Christ about which commandment is the greatest. For most of us, the Ten Commandments come to mind right away, but we must not forget that there were hundreds of other rules and laws that were up for consideration.

Jesus responds in Matthew’s Gospel with what is known in many Christian traditions as the Summary of the Law. He 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. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'”(Matthew 22:37-49)

Christians are not the only faith group that would affirm these as the greatest of the Commandments. Our Jewish brothers and sister are likely to do the same. After all, the Bible Jesus knew was the Jewish scripture and the Ten Commandments, as well as the two verses Jesus quotes here, are found there. In the Summary of the Law Jesus quotes from the books of Deuteronomy (6.4) and Leviticus (19.18).

In fact, so common were these responses to the question of which commandment is the greatest, that they were (and are) known as the Shirma. Jewish men, and women too if they wanted, were instructed to say or recite these words. They were to be the very first thing they said in the morning and the last words spoken before going to bed at night.

In Luke’s Gospel, the story is slightly different. There Jesus doesn’t answer the question; instead he turns the table on the lawyer and asks him about the Law, “What do you read there?” The question might better be translated as, “What do you recite there?” The lawyer gives the right answer too; he recites the Shirma, the Summary of the Law.

It is wonderful that two of the major faith groups in the world agree on what’s most important in life and faith. It makes us speculate whether this is common in other faith groups too. Maybe other religious groups think and teach that loving God and loving our neighbours are central facets of faith.

There was a song that became popular in many Christian Churches that had the chorus, “They will know we are Christians by our love…” Perhaps that can be said of many other faith groups. It would be wonderful to sing that song and each time the chorus came around we could substitute Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha’i, or…

In recent decades, Christians have managed to gather themselves into groups across denominational lines; into ministerial associations or councils. These groups are local, national and international in their concern and composition. Sometimes, like in the case of the Charlottetown and Area Christian Council, they have dealt with significant social and religious issues.

No doubt the time has come for the people of all faith communities to celebrate the things we have in common, particularly the affirmation of loving God and loving one another. So that we can sing, “they will know we are people of faith by our love…”

There is a group of people in PEI trying to form a group called Inter Faith PEI. Their mission will include fostering understanding and encouraging peace in the world. This is one more way for us to show our commitment to that central and eternal pillar of faith known by some as the Shirma, the Summary of the Law.

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