Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; (or Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1); 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift
Here they come again to test Jesus, to trip him up. This time the Pharisees sic a lawyer on him, to ask a legal question about what commandment in the law is the greatest (Matthew 22:36). Wow! The Torah has 613 laws. How does one pick? Jesus does not give an original answer. His response about loving God totally and our neighbor as ourselves was a traditional rabbinic summary of the law. By doing so Jesus did not fall into the trap of emphasizing one part of the law over another. He summed up all of the law. But still Jesus’ ideas were way over the heads of his enemies. Should we love God or neighbor first? For Jesus that is a nonsensical question. For him we love God by loving our neighbor (Matthew 25:34-45). Then who is our neighbor? In ancient Jewish culture those in one’s family, tribe and those who live with you are your neighbors. Your enemies are not neighbors. However, Jesus extends neighbor to everyone. He tells us to love even our enemies. Should our neighbor be extended to the environment and animals as well? Jesus never spoke to that, nor did he deny them membership. Jesus was so countercultural that his adversaries could not possibly grasp what he was even talking about. But don’t think we are any better. There has been enough hatred and violence and pettiness and envy and self-righteousness in Christian religion to go around. The scars last a long time. Jonathan Swift was right. Our culture still has trouble with Jesus. We would like to muzzle him. (See Greek below) When Jesus tells us to love everyone he is not saying that we should have warm fuzzy feelings about everyone. That would be impossible. Love is not essentially shown by a feeling but by action. What we do is what counts in spite of our feelings. Nevertheless, love is a risk. Our hearts might break. Mother Teresa said: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world fall in.”
Matthew 22:34 says that Jesus “silenced” the Sadducees. However, the Greek uses a word with a root agricultural meaning best translated “muzzled.” That’s what you do to animals. There are other more common and less graphic words for “silenced” deliberately avoided here.
I love my children.
Even my dog warms my heart.
My foes! Who said that?