John, Paul, George, and Ringo, are not exactly what one might call theologians, but the title of their 1967 hit, ‘All You Need is Love’ does seem (at one level) to encapsulate the message of this morning’s readings. Our first reading from Exodus goes into detail regarding how we should treat others. Questions such as how we should we live and how we treat the weak and the marginalised are important as they demonstrate how we put our faith into practice in our lives.
Sojourners are temporary residents, refugees, and as such they live in a precarious situation: they lack rights that citizens have and thus are weak and powerless. They can be easily mistreated. A society can, and will, be judged by how it treats those who are weak. Likewise widows and orphans are in a vulnerable position. Clear instructions are given by Moses to safeguard the poor, the economically vulnerable, who are not to be exposed to interest or lose the cloak off their back.
All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and are thus imbued with a fundamental dignity, and with rights. This is the foundation of human society, and it is the will of God. Any society must be judged on how it treats the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised, and the poor. These words remain as true for us today as when they were spoken three thousand years ago. They should cause us to reflect on how the society in which we live functions. Are we loving and generous towards the weak and vulnerable?
Love and generosity are at the heart of St Paul’s advice to the Thessalonian Christians. As he says to them:
‘But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.’ (1Thess 2:7)
Paul’s treatment of people mirrors God’s treatment of us. Loving care and generosity are at the heart of the proclamation of the Christian Faith. Paul lives his faith out in practice, nourishing his offspring, and helping them to grow in faith and love.
In today’s Gospel the questioning of Jesus in the Temple continues. The Pharisees send a legal expert to put Jesus to the test, to see whether His understanding of the Law of Moses is correct. And so the lawyer asks:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36)
There are 613 commandments contained within Genesis to Deuteronomy, the first five books of the Bible. Clearly the question of which is the most important should be answered. And so Jesus replies:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40)
The first commandment Jesus mentions can be found in Deuteronomy 6:5. It forms part of the Shema, which begins, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one…’. This is recited every morning and evening by Jews when they pray. It defines who God is, and how we should relate to Him. We are to love God because God loves us and cares for us. God’s love makes demands of us, and requires all that we are, or think, or do to be motivated by love of God.
Jesus then adds a second commandment, taken from Leviticus 19:18, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This means loving our neighbours and ourselves as God loves us, with the same costly and generous love that our Creator has for us. Jesus cuts right to the heart of the Old Covenant to show that what he is teaching is the fulfilment rather than the abolition of the Law and the Prophets. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that when someone asks the follow-up question, Our Lord tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, to show what costly love in action looks like.
It is a big ask: in Leviticus God says ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ (Lev 19:2) As people created in the image of God, we are called to be holy, to be like God, to live out this love and holiness in our lives, in what we say and do, and in how we treat people. It is something we do together, as the body of Christ in the world. It is the work of a community and the work of a lifetime to put this love into practice in our lives. It sounds deceptively simple, but is very hard when we try to do it. We will fail, but the point is that God does not stop loving us, so we should not stop trying to love our God, our neighbour, or ourselves.
Soon in the Gospel narrative Jesus will be tried and sentenced to die upon a Cross. This will, in fact, be the greatest demonstration possible of God’s love for humanity. Jesus shows us how much God loves His people by dying for them. Love is at the heart of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and it is central to His understanding of Scripture, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 22:40). Our relationship with God and each other informs both who we are and how we act. We love God when we worship Him, when we listen to what He says and obey Him. We love our neighbour through living out the love and forgiveness which we have received through Christ, by showing the same love and care which Christ shows to us, in giving Himself to die for us, and to be raised to give us the hope of eternal life with Him.
Then it is Jesus’ turn to ask questions of the Pharisees, and so He asks about the Messiah, whom the Pharisees identify as the Son of David. This leads Him to ask:
“How is it then that David, in 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 then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Mt 22:43-45)
Jesus uses the Pharisees’ way of interpreting Scripture against them. As Christians we understand that Jesus is Lord, He is God, Son of God, and Son of David. Jesus puts an end to the questions and tests his inquisitors by showing who and what He is, something He will further demonstrate in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
God demonstrates His love for us, so that we be transformed by that love, filled with it, so that it can affect who we are and how we live. We live it out together, as a community, strengthening each other, building each other up in love, praying for our needs and those of the whole world. To do this we rely upon the God who loves us, and who gives Himself for us, transforming us by His Grace.
So let us come to Him, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, and invite others to so that they too may believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.