Reflection Sunday 25 October 2020
Not understanding yet loving
Please read the passage through a number of times. What words or phrases stick out for you? What puzzles you? What questions do you have? Imagine you were one of the Pharisees asking the question. Imagine hearing Jesus’ response and not being able to give him an answer.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus 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?" Jesus 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." Jesus 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
There are two parts to the reading today. The first part we probably can understand but the second part sounds like a riddle.
As I see it the first has to do with love and the second with life. Religion is nothing without love and the law is nothing without love. Love fulfils the law, love fulfils religion. So often in religion it is not love that we pursue but truth. We define the truth as what is right as opposed to what is wrong. When we use truth as our benchmark there are always those who are included and those who are excluded. Jesus didn’t say, “This is the truth, and the way and the life.” Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Rather than walking the path of truth with its boundaries and conditions, its rights and wrongs it seems that Jesus invites us to walk the path of love and to live our lives in relationship of love with God and with every other human being, and not just human beings but all beings, with all creation. When we love creation, people are blessed. God’s blessings flow.
The first part both Jesus and the Pharisees could agree on. Doing it was another matter. The second part the Pharisees had no answer for. Sometimes there are things we have no understanding about. We argue about them and declare what is right and what is wrong. We do this even in regard to God. We like to be the voice of God telling the world what to do and what not to do, what to believe and what not to believe. I remember when I had completed five years of theological study saying to others that after five years, I now know that there is a lot more to learn about God than when I started and that I feel like I know less about God now than I thought I did when I started. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An altar in the world’ says (about people who do not consider themselves religious) ‘The longer they stand before the holy of holies, the less adequate their formulations of faith seem to be.’
The question that the Pharisees could not answer seems to me to be suggesting that God is outside the limits of time. ‘If David thus calls him (the Messiah) Lord, how can he be his son?" Eckhart Tolle says, ‘Death is not the opposite of life. Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal.’ Both birth and death are part of life. God is life, in God there is no death, all are alive. God is God of both the living and the dead. Life is eternal.
It seems to me that whether we know or do not know the right answer is not what is most important, it is what we do that is most important and that is to live lives of love. Again, Barbara Brown Taylor says, ‘Wisdom is not gained from knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not need to be certain what they believe before they act. They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know.’ If we do not know how to love the only way we will learn is by practicing, by doing it. The first step in loving someone may be by simply listening to them.
Prayer: (Please find a place where you can sit and see something of God’s Creation. If unable to be outdoors or look outdoors perhaps focus your attention on an indoor plant or on a pet or on an insect buzzing or crawling around your room. You may have to listen for it or search carefully with your eyes. You could also listen for the singing and calling of birds from outside)
God beyond all knowledge and beyond all my understanding, I pause in your holy presence all around me and within me. Thank you for trees and plants, pets, insects and birds. They are just getting on with their lives. Thank you for my life and thank you for the people and creatures that you have given me to love. Teach me to love as I practice loving you and my neighbours. Thank you for your undying love and being safe in your eternal life. All praise to you God beyond all knowledge and beyond all my understanding. Amen.
photo: A special cat, Bandon, Republic of Ireland
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Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation