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Worship resources, prayer and Christian teaching

Ordinary 30 Year A (Trinity 22)

 


law and loveIntroduction

Last week the opponents of Jesus tried to trap him by asking whether they should pay taxes to Casesar. Jesus gave an answer which made it clear that it is God who holds dominion over humankind, but he did it in such a way that his opponents would find it hard to accuse him of advocating rebellion with Rome . Render to Casesar that which belongs to Casear, a coin, and render God that which belongs to God - your very soul.

Now it is time for another trap and we are told that his opponents test him, by asking which is the greatest commandment. The scene is set for Jesus once more to go on the offensive.

Opening Verses of Scripture  Psalm 90:14

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word and obeying your will we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

First Bible Reading  Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain - that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees – as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequalled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. NRSV

Second Reading  1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. NRSV

Gospel Reading  Matthew Chapter 22:34-36

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“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.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. NRSV

 

Post Communion Sentence

God of all grace, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. CW
 

Commentary

Prime Ministers Question Time makes a very entertaining programme on the television. Apparently it is appreciated in many different countries across the world and is even popular in the United States. Call me cynical, but when during Question Time in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister is asked questions by members of other parties, I think pursuit of truth is seldom the main objective. It has always been the case that opponents want to catch the PM out.  In the episode today from Matthew a religious expert, a Pharisee, continues the series of antagonistic challenges to Jesus' authority. There may be one questioner, but there is a group of them "gathered together." Just like the PM, Jesus is in a hostile setting; this is not a religious inquiry seeking enlightenment, but rather a trap. 

The religious question asked of Jesus today is simple "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Matthew says that the lawyer's intent is to test (Greek: peirazo) Jesus (v. 35). We saw this word peirazo in the temptation story (4:1-11), where it is translated tempt (4:1), tempter (4:3), and test (4:7). In this Gospel, only the devil and the Pharisees peirazo Jesus. The difference between an honest test and a temptation is that the tester might hope for the person being tested to succeed, but the tempter hopes for the person being tempted to fail. Sadly the lawyer here seems to hope for Jesus to fail. 

There were 613 commandments in the Pentateuch, the Pharisee asks Jesus which rule is the best. Which rule would Jesus pick? There were a lot of possibilities for Jesus, but he chose to put together two of the ancient teachings. The first is the basic statement of faith recited by pious Jews each day, morning and evening, the Shema from Deut. 6:5. 

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." 

Jewish children memorize these verses, and Jewish people repeat them every day of their lives as part of their daily worship. The Shema builds on the first of the Ten Commandments, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exod 20:3), but adds the love requirement. The words of the Shema, recited daily in worship, are graven on Jewish hearts. No faithful Jew can argue with the primacy of this commandment.

Jesus has answered the lawyer's question, and has not given the lawyer much of an opening for an attack. If Jesus had stopped now that would have been a good and safe response. But Jesus appears not to be intimidated or frightened, he seems ready to rise to the challenge, he continues,

'And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'

This comes from Lev. 19:18, a verse which is quoted three times in this Gospel (see also 5:43 and 19:19). When Jesus says that the second commandment is like the first, he means that they are related and have similar weight. Love of God naturally leads to love of neighbour. 1 John 4:20 makes the linkage explicit: 

"Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen." 

This second commandment shows that Jesus considered the first commandment to be directly involved in the social obligations of the law, Lev. 9:18. Love of God can only be present if it is evidenced or demonstrated in love of neighbour.

How do you love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself? In the comic strip Peanuts, Charles Schultz has Charlie Brown say to one of the other kids - "I love mankind! Its people I can't stand." we all know only too well that it is much easier to love everybody than it is to love somebody. 

By calling us to love our neighbour, Jesus makes love hard, he does not call us to love the whole world, which we might prefer. It is easier to love the abstract rather than the particular -- to love Asians or Africans whom we have never met instead of the neighbour who is just too much. It is easier to give a pound for flood relief in a distant land than to tend to a real sick neighbour’s needs. Jesus is asked about rules, but he responds by calling for a way of life. Jesus then goes further by saying

"On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets" (v. 40). 

When Jesus says that the law and prophets hang on these two commandments (to love God and neighbour), he is saying that these two commandments summarize the greatest wisdom to be found in Hebrew scripture. Rules were not given because they were necessary, but rather to try and make people live lives properly towards each other and God. They sought to make people live like Jesus is now encouraging. If we do this we are cutting through the red tape and the rules are no longer necessary. Jesus tells that these two commandments are as important as a pair of hinges on which a door is hung. As long as both hinges remain secure the door functions reliably, moving as its creator intended. Charles Royden
   

Meditation

Mark Twain is supposed to have said,
"It's not what I don't understand about the bible that bothers me, but what I do understand."
The teachings of Jesus are remarkable for their simplicity and perhaps no more so than when Jesus tells us that to love God with all of our heart soul and mind is the greatest and first commandment. Jesus' teaching today is straight forward and we require reminding rather than explanation of what he means. God should be the goal of our deepest love and this should not deprive our other loves of intimacy or importance.
Rather since we define ourselves by who and what we love, our souls are enriched or diminished by the objects of our affection. To love God and concern ourselves with loving God above all things keeps our lives in perspective, it also enriches us above all things. We become more in the image of God, the more we love God. It is therefore true that our devotion to God brings quality to the other loves in our life, which are inevitably deepened as we learn more of what it is to love and be loved by God.
 

Hymns

  1. Ye servants of God

  2. Give me joy

  3. Love divine

  4. Come let us sing

  5. The Servant Song.
     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 

Lord of creation, you give new strength to our faith. Grant that we may recognise your presence in all life and history, and face our trials with serenity and peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let me prefer your presence, O God, to all other company. Let me exalt your name, O Lord, above all other names and let me love your will, O God, beyond all other desires; for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen. Therese of Lisieux, 1873-1897

Love has brought us here today. Not our love for God but God’s steadfast love for us:
The love of the Holy for that which is full of flaws.
The love of the Seeker for the that which is lost.
The love of the Healer for that which is diseased.
The love of the Reconciler for that which is alienated.

Love has brought us here today. We love because God first loved us. Help us, O Lord, never to nurse the grievance that separates us from you and from one another. Grant us grace to forgive those who have wronged us. May we know that no sin is so great that it cannot be confessed; no wound so deep it cannot be healed, and no sinner so lost that grace cannot bring them home.  William Booth, 1829-1912

Additional Material

Meditation: Transforming Love
The Law of Moses is the heart of the Old Testament; Jesus’ teaching is its New Testament equivalent. To love others means allowing ourselves to be loved. We need to be able to love ourselves. Are we open to God’s love? Opening ourselves to the love of God gives us courage and strength. When we see the extra confidence given to children when they are secure in the knowledge of being loved, this helps us to understand something of God’s transforming love. Mark Davenport


Hymns
All people that on earth do dwell 
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
Jesus put this song into our hearts
Come let us sing of a wonderful love
All praise to our redeeming Lord
All hail the power (Tune Miles Lane)

Prayers

Unite our hearts, O Lord, in bonds of affection that we may live with one another in humility and peace. Give us patience in the time of trial, and steadfastness in the tasks before us. Refresh our hearts in the hour of anguish and sustain us in the day of our need. Be to us, and to your whole Church, both our everlasting light and our eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen  Bernard Albert, 1569-1636 

Strengthen us, O God, to relieve the oppressed, to hear the groans of poor prisoners, to reform the abuses of all professions; that many be made not poor to make a few rich; for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Oliver Cromwell.


Almighty God, maker of all things, thou hast placed thy creatures necessary for our use in diverse lands: grant that all people s and nations, needing one another, may be knit together in one bond of mutual service, to share their diverse riches; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Anon 16th Century