Fulfilling God’s Law of Love

Written by Joel on October 25th, 2011

Oct 23, 2011
Proper 25
Matthew 22:34-46 – The Greatest Commandment

Before Homecoming we had been working through Matthew’s Gospel at the time when Jesus entered Jerusalem and he was being tested by the religious leaders before his trial and crucifixion. We heard a series of parables in which Jesus challenges the religious authorities, and in particular used parables as a way to show them a mirror. Now, the tables have turned, and the religious leaders are presenting to Jesus a series of testing questions, loaded questions. The kind of questions that are designed to have no right answer, the kind where whether you answer yes or no you are still wrong no matter what. Kinda like asking your parents “Who is your favorite kid?” Unless it’s an only child, that parent better be a bit clever in how they answer. Today’s Gospel reading is the third of such attempted trapping questions.

The first was whether the faithful should pay taxes – if Jesus answered “yes” then he would have been condoning the Roman Occupation and oppression of the Jewish people; but if he answered “no” he could have been accused of inciting an uprising against the government. So we have that famous answer: “Give to Caesar what is due Caesar, and to God what is due God.” The 2nd question was on the resurrection and marriage in heaven. And the third, our reading this morning is on the law: Which of the laws are the greatest?

At first glance the question may seem innocent enough, but there is a risk in the way Jesus may chose to answer this question. If he just picks one (say, one of the 10 commandments) it may imply that all the other commandments are unimportant. Though, this is a common question that is going around Rabbis in those days – people who were attempting to get at the essence of the law. Which law is the greatest?

And so Jesus answers with scripture: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That’s Deuteronomy 6:5; and just for good measure Jesus offers a second “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, this second one is also a quotation from scripture, from the Old Testament. Love your neighbor is actually not a new idea introduced by Jesus, but rather he is restating it here from Leviticus 19:18. Both quotations come from a section of the Bible called the Pentateuch or Five books, or also called the law of Moses. How is it that such love can be summed up in law? Law and love.

Law. There are 248 affirmative laws found in the Torah; that is 248 things you should do. 365 negative laws, things you should not do. All together this makes 613 laws, which is the same number of words found in the 10 commandments. We still understand law in this day and age. There are things you must do and things you must not do or you will get in trouble. My car registration came in the mail last week and I know that I better put that sticker on my car or else I’m going to get pulled over – affirmative law, something I should do. When I drive I ought not go faster than 70 mph on the free-way (well, around here I guess you wont get in trouble until at least 85mph) – negative law, something I ought not do. But now just how odd is it that Jesus quotes laws of love! Love God, love neighbor; like the two halves of the 10 commandments, all the law can be summed up in these two directions of love. They are both affirmative laws, things you ought to do, but how can we legislate love?

It’s not like people haven’t tried. I think I’ve told you about the clever mother who, when catching her two kids fighting, forced them to hold hands, walk around the house 3 times and say “I love you” to each other until it became true. But the kind of love we are talking about here is not about warm feelings. It is an action kind of love. Its a love that goes upward and outward – to God and neighbor; not asking “what’s in it for me?” but rather “how can I love?”

I have a friend who prefers to drive US11 up and down the valley instead of I-81. Not because he is afraid of the interstate traffic, but because this route provides him a better opportunity to fulfill the law of love. He tells me that you are much more likely to see people walking US11 and that gives him the opportunity to offer them ride. One hitchhiker he picked up was going to work at Bowman Apples in Mount Jackson but didn’t own a car. Another was heading to the court house in Woodstock to clear his drivers license so he didn’t have to drive his moped (which broke down on that rainy day), and another was on his way to South Carolina to see his son who was home from the Army.

Now, we ordinarily associate warm feelings with the concept of love. We think that love is something that happens to us – romantic love, chemistry, it just happens. Just think of every romantic comedy ever made. But the love your God, love your neighbor, law of love is not this warm and fuzzy nice kind of love; its an action kind of love. Do you think my friend who picks up hitchhikers has any warm feelings for any of those neighbors on US11? Of course not! How could he? He never knows any of these people for that kind of love to take place. Instead it is that kind of love that is constantly seeking for how to fulfill such a thing as love. How can what I do this day show love for my neighbor? Not because you are particularly fond of them (you could really dislike someone and still love them!), not because of warm feelings, not because of what happens to you. Fulfilling this law starts with love; it’s not the result of love.

God calls us to fulfill the law of love. It is the summary of the law and the prophets. We love because God first loved us. It is something that we do, not something that we feel. Let us continually seek how we might fulfill the law of love. Love God, love others.


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