Let’s play a game – raise you hand when you hear a phrase you have heard before:
- Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting tomato in a fruit salad
- Penny wise, pound foolish
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away
- A stitch in time saves nine
- Early to bed and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise
- Let go or be dragged
- No good deed goes unpunished
- An early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese
- Never let your hair be brushed by a woman who is mad at your father
- Don't squat with your spurs on!
- Nothing cuts so deep as the lash of guilt
- The devil makes use of idle hands
When I first looked at the Gospel for this morning, I was so excited!! In my first glance, I thought “Wow – the Golden Rule! “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Then I looked closer at the reading & realized that this is not the Golden Rule – that’s actually Matthew 7:12 - Oh well, at least I was I the right book! But it got me thinking about these phrases we hear so often that they might be too familiar to us to actually hear; phrases that may have lost some "oomph" in the familiarity.
Over the month of October, we’ve been looking at the ways the Chief Priests, Pharisees, and the Herodians have tried to trip up Jesus – they’ve been asking tricky questions left & right, trying to get him to misstep so they can trip him up on his own words. Today’s Reading continues in that same vein. The Pharisees send a lawyer in to do the dirty work this time. The first thing to know as we explore this passage is that the lawyers in this time period were experts in Jewish Torah Law – they debated the question, probably daily, about which commandments were the greatest. I imagine that this particular lawyer was probably the best & the brightest that they could find at debating the importance of the commandments – so that no matter how Jesus answered, the lawyer could jump in & argue against it. You also have to realize that the Ten Commandments were not the only ones on the table – by their count, there were 613 commandments – so Jesus had a lot of ways to go with this question. The lawyer starts by addressing Jesus as “Teacher” – sounds respectful, but we know he’s only putting on a good face for the onlookers – he’s out to embarrass & discredit Jesus. So he asks the question “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” I imagine that Jesus sits back a little & looks at him intently before quoting two commandments out of the Old Testament. First He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 – except that He changes one word. The original scripture in Deuteronomy reads “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” The commandment goes on to say that we should keep those words always in our hearts, talk about them when we are at home & away, when we lie down & when we get up, teach them to our children, bind them as a sign on our hand, fix them as an emblem on our forehead, and write them on our doorposts & gates. Our devout Jewish friends say this every day in their prayers even now. No one was going to argue that one with Jesus that this was the first & greatest commandment – he was pretty safe there. BTW – the word he changed was “might” to “mind” – there has been lots of debate over the wording change which we won’t get into today, I like to think that in all of His work with the crippled & infirm & forgotten people, He knew that sometimes those with the smallest amounts of might (strength), had the largest amounts of faith. I personally like the translation in the Message: Love the Lord your God with all your passions, imagination, muscle and intelligence.
Then Jesus went out on a limb & quoted another commandment from Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He weights it the same by saying it is “like” the first. Then He continues by stating that on these two commandments hang the Law & the Prophets. Who can argue with that? If you follow these two commandments every second of every day, you’re in good with God – all of the other commandments fall into place then. If you are practicing these, then you don’t have to worry about all of the “Thou Shalt Nots…” Our own Book of Common Prayer calls this the Summary of the Law – that’s a great description – it is the Law in a nutshell. It is also quoted in the Rite 1 Penitential Order – you hear it every Sunday during Lent. “Love our neighbors as ourselves” – that sounds easy, right?
Here’s the part I want you to think about this next week as you go about your daily business – Love your neighbor as YOURSELF. I see so many people who do not love themselves – and it turns them into very bitter, judgmental people. I know that in my life, I have learned that when one person drives me absolutely nuts, it is because there is something about them that reminds me about something about me that I do not like. It calls me into deeper self-reflection. How can I love that person if I cannot love myself? Try it. Look around. People who are mean-spirited and petty are not people who are peaceful in their hearts. They do not love themselves and therefore they cannot love others fully.
Because here’s the thing: once you love yourself, you see how we are all connected, how we are all children of God, trying to do the best we can, trying to sleep well at the end of the day. Once you love yourself, you realize that hurting the other person, or group of people, only hurts you too. Love yourself – Love your neighbor – and you will find yourself loving and serving God with all your passion, and intelligence, and muscle and imagination.