Love is all there is (Mt 22:34-40) by Zandra Lomas

LOVE IS ALL THERE IS  Oct 28th 2012

MISSION STATEMENT 4  (MS) Matt 22: 34-40

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. “

All over this land today and all over the world this mission statement will be read aloud. So, here is a test question! Where would it be heard and in what context? Everybody should get full marks for this test because we have heard it twice, already this morning. So the answer to where… is in churches everywhere, and apart  from  the reading this morning,  it comes at the very beginning of this Communion Service and is entitled “The summary of the Law!”

Also in addition to seeing it in its usual place, in the Communion Service, it has cropped up several times in the last few weeks, in other contexts, here in church, e.g. at 8:45 in readings, last week as part of the Family Service. This is not a co-incidence – but rather a great significance, because if we were to be asked, “What are the greatest words ever spoken?” It would be these. So let’s consider this great statement.

In the context in which it is found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, it appears that Jesus is under fire from the authorities. Nothing unusual there except that they are trying to force him into making a huge mistake so he can be arrested. Having no success in their ploys, an expert in the Law tackled him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answers the “loaded” question with this MS. Now, a less careful answer could have left Jesus open to the charge of trying to abolish parts of the Law. Instead he brilliantly brings together Duet. 6v5 (love of God) and Lev. 19v18 (love of neighbour) as a summary of all the Law and the Prophets. We say and hear this summary so often, it’s easy to take it for granted, but do we really appreciate that this answer is a masterstroke of creative brilliance on the part of Jesus? By focussing on the two halves of the 10 commandments – love of God and love and duty to our neighbour, he brought together all the OT Law and prophets in a combined masterstroke. Jesus, himself, said in v 40 , “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I guess that the expert in the Law was not only silenced but greatly impressed.

We should be mightily impressed, too, because they are the greatest words ever spoken  and thus we should  realise the enormity of what is implied in this summary of the Law by Jesus. It divides comfortably into two halves.

1. Love God with all of your being.

2. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

It sounds simple enough but it packs a great punch. I learnt the true meaning of the first part of this summary from a gentle, wonderful man called Tom. I was in my late twenties, Tom was very near the end of a long life. The house I lived in backed onto the local cricket pitch that fielded three teams as well as youth teams. There were plenty of matches and Tom was to be seen at many of them. He loved cricket. Weekends would see Tom watching the matches with obvious enthusiasm and enjoyment. But also, on Sundays, you knew he would always be in Church. One Sat. I was sitting next to him as he watched the match, chatting away to him, when he suddenly said, “I have something very important to tell you  -I have lived a long and eventful life, we’ve often talked about it,  but 3 things have been of the utmost importance to me throughout. The first and most important is my love for God – there is no greater thing in my life – the second in importance, is the love I have for my wife – coming third is my love for cricket.  BUT God comes first.” Tom was just a simple man with little education, but he had the depth of understanding greater than most through his simplicity and total love and commitment for God. Not only did he enjoy his cricket but it was enhanced by his love for God. That’s the secret of all life experiences, they are enhanced with God at the centre.

Our feeling of love for God is our experience of God, and our experience of life.  Jesus chose love in every moment, in every instance, even as they killed him. Love of God has to be at the core of our life – the centre of all that we are, if we are to understand the purpose of each of our lives, for all that we do should flow outwards from our central core of love for God. Tom taught me that – I could see it in him – he did not need to shout it out – to compel others to follow – it was just who he was  - love flowed from him – and without words he touched the lives of others in life-enhancing, life supporting and life fulfilling ways.

Tom would have sung the words of our next hymn with great joy, “I love you(God) more than any other so much more than anything.”

Now Part two – Love your neighbour as yourself. Let’s look at the “yourself” bit first.

In one school where I taught, the headteacher would sometimes on Friday ask the children to say a confessional prayer that contained the words, “Please forgive me for the wrongs I have done; for bad temper and angry words , for always wanting the best for myself…” I realise that the last phrase –wanting the best for myself – refers exclusively to selfishness. However, if we remove this phrase out of its original context and turn it into the question, “Is it wrong to want the best for ourselves?” I wonder how you would answer that. Take a moment to think about it…..Is your answer easy and spontaneous, do you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, do you need more time to define the statement or actually,do you prefer not to think about it?

Wanting the best for ourselves in the context of selfishness can result in acts that are not life-enhancing , life-supporting or life-fulfilling for ourselves and for others. Wanting the best for ourselves is not a carte blanche to do what we want.

But, is there a level at which we need to know and achieve what is the best for ourselves, so that we can be the best that we can be for others? Wanting the best for ourselves, the highest grandest version of what we could be, should come from the central core of loving God, and this can only produce that which is life-enhancing, life-supporting and life-fulfilling for ourselves and also for others. In this context we can never knowingly hurt anyone or anything – our desire through our love of God is to be life-enhancing, life-supporting and life-fulfilling in all that we do. This is how we understand the difference of selfishly wanting the best for ourselves and that which comes from an in depth knowledge of who we are within the love of God, that higher, grander version of what we could be.

 To love ourselves is programmed into us as a basic instinct and if we deny this instinct we deny an important part of being human. But in loving God we are given the freedom to love ourselves so that in doing so, we can then know how to love and serve others. Jesus didn’t exclude loving ourselves from this statement on love – for how we love ourselves affects how we love others.

Jesus is saying in this statement that Love is all there is. St.Paul expands this in 1 Cor. 13, saying that love is greater than anything else. It is the sum total of all that is. If love was at the heart of all relationships, families, national, global -  this world would change overnight.

There is a saying “Love makes the world go round!” Actually, love is the powerhouse of the soul, the world, the universe.

And there is a process in this MS – this summary of the Law by Jesus.

1. Loving God with all our “being” should be the core of who we are.

2. Loving our self developing in the love of God enables us to love our neighbour because we have known and experienced the effect of this love, in a life-enhancing, life-supporting and life-fulfilling way. So we can love others in that way.

“Love the lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There are no commandments greater than these.

© St Bartholomew's PCC 2011