Matthew 22; 37-39
Love gets rather a poor press these days, in the newspapers and TV and on the Internet. I think it was Bob Dylan who once said love’s “just a four-letter word”. Yet the poet Frances Thompson once wrote, “love is a many-splendoured thing”. “Love rejects the question ‘What am I getting out of this?’”, declared another. And John Donne described it as “a growing or full, constant light”; it is “as strong as death”. That’s the true love Jesus showed, and summed up in our text this morning.
“Which is the greatest commandment?”, asked a lawyer. “Love the Lord your God”, replied Jesus.
This lawyer is portrayed in Matthew’s version as having no real interest in finding out the answer! He had already made up his mind what the answer was; he asked him “to test him”. He actually wanted to know whether Jesus was ‘sound’ (in other words, whether he believed the same things that the lawyer did). He asked a question about religious statements; he went away with an answer about love. He approached Jesus to get new knowledge; he went away challenged to a new attitude. It is easier to learn something than to have a change of heart.
Jesus replies directly and straightforwardly that the greatest commandment is “to love God with all your heart, soul and mind”. To love God truly requires complete commitment of heart, soul and mind. God is other than you, different from you. Love is asking to be open to seeing God as He is, so that you can accept Him as he is, and rejoice in Him. Then you can explore how God sees you, and repent of how you mistreat Him. You can then ask how to treat Him better, and pray for continuing insight and wisdom to do so.
The proof of such commitment is not declaring what you believe, and will do when you became a church member. It is a life of love towards God – as shown in the other two loves. The second love is:
“Love your neighbour ….”
Others are other than you. Love is asking to be open to seeing others as they are, different from you, so that you can accept them as they are, and rejoice in them. Then you can explore how they see you and repent of how you mistreat them. You can then ask how to treat them better and pray for continuing insight and wisdom to do so.
A small congregation in Eastern Africa was one of the world’s poorest. They wanted to show solidarity with the churches in Britain and Ireland, who had given them love and practical help. So, they held a bring-and-share lunch and a small auction of things they had made. Most of these things were tools and utensils recycled from litter off rubbish dumps. The amount they collected was very small by western standards. But that’s not the point; the point is that this poor congregation sent the money to Christian Aid’s headquarters in the UK “to be used to eradicate poverty in the world”.
The virus has led to us perhaps keeping in touch more often with our own children and grand-children and friends by phone and Zoom. But Jesus emphasizes loving others who are not close family, and therefore part of our own identity. This virus has also driven us to put on masks to protect others – strangers on the streets and in shops – as much as ourselves. They are all our “neighbours”!
Bert was a retired postman and a lay preacher. During his life he preached many sermons, which helped many people in their faith. But also, every week he would put on his bicycle clips and ride uphill to the university. There he would spend time encouraging students in their faith. He would also invite students to his modest city-centre flat, where with great Yorkshire hospitality he would serve mountains of sandwiches and enormous mugs of tea. Many students who spent time with Bert have gone on to lives of service, and a number have been ordained. Bert’s preaching was a blessing to many, but it was his hospitality and sharing of himself that had the most impact and demonstrated plainly what love is.
Love builds a bridge between two equals. In our other Bible reading that Stella read to us St. Paul described his love for the Thessalonians as being ‘determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us’ (1 Thess 2: 8). Love is above all the gift of oneself – sharing our own selves with others. And you find you can do so, thirdly, if you:
“Love … yourself”
Your body is other than you. Love is asking to be open to seeing your body as God your creator sees it, so that you can accept it as it is, and rejoice in it. Then you can repent of how and when you mistreat it. You can then ask how to treat it better, and pray for continuing insight and God-given wisdom to do so.
Some people love themselves in the wrong way. They take overweening pride in themselves, bending everyone and everything to their own self-made image and its gratification. We call it “narcissism”. This self-love is an example of Bob Dylan’s “four-letter word”, always asking oneself, “What am I getting out of this?”. This is the opposite of being open to seeing your body and so yourself with God’s eyes. Absolutely not what Jesus meant.
Many more people do not love themselves. They take a look at themselves and hate what they or their bodies have become. It may be the effect of how others have treated them, or of decisions they have made for themselves. They may think they are beyond redemption. But the Bible tells us that every human being, no matter what state they are in, still has the mark of God in them. We are all made in the image of God, all “fearfully and wonderfully made”. The fundamental reality is that God is constantly recreating us, sustaining us, longing to reestablish a loving relationship with us, one that we were created to enjoy though the love of His Son through all eternity. We are of infinite worth. We can see ourselves with God’s eyes and love ourselves because he first loves us.
So, how did you come to commit your life to Jesus as your Saviour and Lord in the first place? Was it not because a trusted friend or loved family member demonstrated the gospel to you by the way they lived and acted out their love? Your journey of discovery would never have begun without the witness of the life of a loving friend. Our deepest longing is to live within the context of deep, open relationships, when we all really do love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbours as we love ourselves. Let that always be our most important prayer. Amen.