Once again this morning’s gospel finds Jesus in the temple fielding questions aimed at tripping him up, discrediting him and finding grounds for condemnation. This time it’s the Pharisees turn to give it their best shot. They know that the Sadducees had just struck out trying to nail Jesus on a fine point of Mosaic Law. So they brought in one of their heavy hitters, a lawyer specializing in all the intricacies of law and tradition, prophecy and religious practice. His brilliance will surely destroy this Nazarene bumpkin.
You can hear the sarcasm dripping as he addresses Jesus as “Master.” He wants to draw this uneducated carpenter into an elevated legal discussion and expose Jesus as a presumptuous hick who’s way out of his depth bantering with the big boys. Pity the proud lawyer. He came to engage in verbal jousting and found he was up against the greatest original thinker the world has ever known. Rather than get drawn into the fine points of old covenant law, Jesus lays out the basis for an entirely new covenant. And he does it in just two sentences:
Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.
Two thousand years later, the brilliance and the brevity of the essential Christian concept are still breathtaking. The Ten Commandments and 27 chapters of Leviticus were dominated by a laundry list of “thou shall not.” The Old Testament is an encyclopedia of transgressions and prescribed punishments, both in the abstract and in endless cautionary tales. And then in two sentences the entire dynamic of our relationship with God is redefined.
Gone is the recitation of “shall not’s.” In its stead, the affirmative shall love is our new imperative. Avoiding evil becomes the natural byproduct of actively doing good. We are commanded to live positive lives of action, not lives of avoidance. More recently the basic Christian concept has been boiled down even further, into only four letters…WWJD… What Would Jesus Do? And from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we know the answer. We will joyfully live in and for the love of Jesus Christ. We will gratefully praise God and serve our neighbor. From “shall not” to “shall love,” we’ve really come a long way.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.