The Sadducees and the Herodians failed – that is the upper class of people living in Jerusalem and representatives from the local government – they failed in their attempt to trick Jesus. In today’s Gospel it’s time for the Pharisees to take a shot at him. A well educated group of people asked him: of all the Laws, statutes and ordinances found in the Holy Book, which is the greatest?
The answer he gave was not surprising, every child, woman and man within earshot knew the correct answer. They knew it by heart. That Jesus knew it too was in no way extraordinary. We are to love God with our whole being, with every fiber of who we are, with our whole heart, soul and mind. And we are to love our neighbours in the same way.
What stumps the Pharisees is the question Jesus asks them – about the nature of the Messiah they so desperately seek. How can David call a son “Lord?” Well, honestly, for me, and perhaps for many of us, it doesn’t seem like an important question. And it’s not. Except for the fact that the Pharisees have to re-imagine the Messiah if a basic assumption made about the Messiah is in error. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel (12.50) Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Perhaps Jesus is saying that the real qualities of the Messiah are not about being a son of David, but about doing the will of God. Jesus, it seems to me, is holding himself to a high standard.
Also in Matthew’s Gospel (11.4), when John the Baptist sent some disciples to see if his cousin Jesus is really the Messiah, “Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see…” The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. The proof is in what he does, not in being a son of David, not by being presented in the Temple on the eight day, not by a strict adherence to the Law, but by doing what God expects, loving God and loving his neighbour.
Jesus shows in this short exchange that if the Pharisees do what they already know to do, they would see their Messiah. As it turns out, they wouldn’t dare ask any more questions, it was too dangerous, it was too earth shattering.
And yes it is too dangerous to do what God expects of us: Love.
This week we heard and saw extraordinary images coming out of our nation’s capital, Ottawa. I’ve stood outside Centre Block, like many of you, waiting my turn to see the chambers of the Houses of Commons and the Senate. I’ve stood in the doorway and marveled at the grandeur of the Parliamentary Library. I’ve corresponded with someone on the inside of that Library getting permission to use a photograph in a school project.
Nothing in my life-experience every allowed me to imagine that a soldier, on guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, would be shot and killed by anyone. Neither would I have imagined that the same person would then get inside Centre Block, with nothing but an unlocked door between him and the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, government and opposition members alike.
At the end of the day, two people dead. One a soldier, a son, a father, a friend, a comrade, a hero: another, a sad person, lost, frightened, griped by madness.
I stayed up late, and waited, to hear from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Party. Not that it matters, but I have no problem with anything any of them said. Even if I might have said it differently, under such odd circumstances we can’t get picky about words. I think each spoke well and I hope that none of this is used to further anyone’s political agenda.
One of them said, it doesn’t matter which one, “These acts were driven by hatred but also designed to drive us to hate. They will not.” Good words, words to live by. The next day, when the sun came up, and motivations were clearer, we learned that this probably was not an act of terrorism, perpetrated by foreign or home-grown terrorists. It was the act of a sad man, a man who struggled with mental illness and addictions.
I hope that you will join me in a pledge not to be driven by hatred: hatred only begets hatred. Love is the fulfilling of the Law of God, love is what it means to do God’s will. We will not hate; we will not hate people of other religions; we will not hate those who struggle with mental illness and addictions; we will not hate those who wish us harm. We will choose love. Always love.
It is often said, and I have said it myself, many times, that the one thing that every major religion has in common, and a great many indigenous religions I might also add, is some form of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s true and a good rule to live by, for sure. But, I am starting to come to the realization that Jesus goes even further. Jesus loves without the expecting that he will be loved back. Jesus loves without expectation.
Love is not a feeling. Let me say that again – love is not a feeling! Sure, romantic love involves all sorts of feelings: as does our love for family and teammates and people just like us: as does our love for places and things and music and sunsets. But love, the love that summarizes the whole of the Law of God is not a feeling; it is not a warm and fuzzy. It is a spirit that demands of us to turn from hatred and to choose love. Always love.
When the Pharisees approached Jesus, to test him, no one thought that love was anything other than an action. In this way love is not a feeling, it is something we do. We hold the hand and kiss the forehead of a dying person, not to get something back, but because we have to, there is something inside of us that makes it happen.
Sometimes choosing love is difficult, sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes it is dangerous. Sometimes we might even wish Jesus never said anything about it at all. Again from Matthew’s Gospel (5.44) Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
I don’t know about you, but my soul longs to be loved, without condition, without expectation. My soul longs to be loved despite my failures and my sinfulness, or even because of my failures and my sins, I don’t much care either way. My soul longs to be loved – forever, for eternity.
And the Good News that has been entrusted to us to share is that God does – in fact – love us without expectation, forgives every sin, and welcomes us into his eternal fellowship. I am not loved by God according to the parameters of the Golden Rule. God does not love me because I first loved God. ‘Tis the other way ‘round! I am loved by God, we are loved by God – by God’s own rules, without ceasing, forgiven, redeemed.
There are two men; soldiers, heroes, who were murdered this week. God loves both of them. There are two men; hateful and sick who died this week. And as hard as it might seem to us today, God loves both of them too. And as hard as it is for us sometimes, God expects us to love them too. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Amen.