Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
It is summary day, my friends. We have made it all the way through the Ten Commandments. And today is the day we look back to see what we have done and to take one more gander at what Jesus, an observant member of the house of Israel, had to say about the whole thing.
We must always remember that the Ten Commandments have been taught to children and adults since Moses dropped the third tablet (thank you Mel Brooks).
When Miss Dixie taught her Sunday School class about them, her students were quite shockingly astute. For example, after learning they were to honor their father and mother, the young teacher asked them, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” And without missing a beat, little Cindy responded, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Out of the mouths of babes, right?
So, before we look at what Jesus said about the body, let’s take a look back at what we have learned together this summer:
First, the very beginning, the commandment upon which all the others sit is that our God is one – the one who saves. Our God seeks us always, because God loves us no matter what. It is therefore our job to work with everything we have to stop placing other gods or things or goals or ourselves where God should be in our lives. To instead let God’s Love rule.
Second, we are never to put God in a box. Whether that box looks like an idol of wood or stone or clay or instead like our minds trying to keep God contained into the shape we wish God would look like. We are instead to open our eyes and minds and hearts to who God truly is: something far more vast and wonderful than our minds can imagine.
Third, do not use God’s name as if it has no significance. Rather than being a prohibition on all cursing, this commandment has far more to do with ensuring that we are honoring the very meaning of God’s name – which is “life” itself. This means that our word is not merely the oaths that we give but more importantly is the testimony we give with our lives to the God who loves us and calls us to remember that all life is sacred by following the way of Christ.
Fourth, since the beginning, God has desired for us to have the opportunity, every single week, to rest and reconnect. To love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit feel peace. And for those of us who follow Christ to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven.
Fifth, while children are meant to give honor to those that love them, we who raise children are meant to create family environments built on mutual love and respect. Parents or caregivers are meant to ensure enough resources and proper boundaries for their children. Children are meant to learn limits and how to show courtesy to people of all ages. And children and meant to learn how to be loving, healthy, hopefully fun, and servant-minded adults by watching their parents.
Sixth, we all know we are not supposed to kill people. What we need to remember is that it is our job to make God’s life a priority. So anytime we give into anger, or fear, or hatred that turns us against our neighbor, it is as though we have killed them.
Seventh, God created us to be loyal and loving to one another, in relationships that are healthy, life-giving, and loving. We are to take are vows seriously and never enter into them lightly.
Eighth, remember that there are countless ways we can loot people’s lives, as individuals and as bodies of people. It is not just about objects or property. It is about healthy, livelihood, reputation, their future, their ability to flourish, sometimes their very life. Sometimes in ways that a simple “I’m sorry” will not make up for. We need to be mindful of our actions and of the Lazaruses at our gates.
Ninth, do not put up with lies. Do not tell them. Do not accept them. We have to let ourselves be uncomfortable so we can finally deal with whatever problems we are actually facing. Protect your integrity. Let love rule.
Tenth, not everything in life has to be a competition. We cannot control our initial reactions, but we can control our intentions, our meditations, our plans, our choices. We can consciously decide on a better path forward that puts people first including our neighbors – all of our neighbors.
There you have it. The Ten Commandments. Most of them not meaning what we originally thought or what we were taught. Why? Well, probably because we took them largely on face value or didn’t actually listen to what Jesus said. And what are Christians always supposed to do? Listen to what Jesus said…
Speaking of which… Let’s look at our gospel lesson. So, in three of the four gospels, Jesus has to answer this question about which of the commandments is the greatest. It is always in a context where he is being tested by a lawyer (ahem) or a scribe. They are wanting to know if he knows his stuff. If he is really a part of the tradition. And also, if they are really the best at what they do.
Jesus was not the first to summarize the law in this way. Other famous rabbis had made the same connection. So he was actually quite firmly within the tradition when he gave this answer. It was not a shocking revelation on its own. It was a good summary of the law – loving God (the first four commandments) and loving your neighbor (the last six commandments).
Then we come to this passage in the gospel of Luke. The lawyer decides to press his luck. And Jesus does something truly controversial. He begins this tale to explain the commandments: a man is attacked by bandits and left for dead. A clergyperson walks by, sees the hurting man and scurries along. Not wanting to be troubled. A person of the historic ruling class, let’s just go with a politician walks by, doesn’t have a camera crew, sees the hurting man and scurries along in a hurry to their next meeting.
Now, here is the clincher, you need to picture someone you have historically hated. Assumed the worst of. A group of people you have thought would attack you on sight. Rob you. Beat you. People you had thought were the worst of the worst. Do you have a group in your mind’s eye?
Those are the Samaritans. We do not understand this now because of the millennia standing between us, but the hatred between them and the Jewish people was deep seated. For Jesus to say that a Samaritan helped this poor wretch was the same thing as us hearing that Malcom X helped the Grand Dragon of the KKK. It was controversial. Unheard of. Shocking and beyond belief.
A contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Joachim Prinz once said that “Neighbor is not a geographic term.” He was making the same point that Jesus does in this parable. Your neighbor is every other human being on this planet. It is one of the first lessons I teach to our younglings, because it is that important. And whether our relationship with them last ten minutes or ten years or fifty years, we are meant to show the same love and compassion that God has called us to have for ourselves, for our families, and for our friends.
Because here it the reason Jesus said hang all the law and the prophets on these two commandments: we get really confused when we don’t keep it simple. We tend to want to hold each other to ridiculous standards while ignoring how badly we are failing ourselves. So Jesus and the other rabbis said, nope. Stick with this. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In John, Jesus went even further to say, you know what, just love your neighbor. Period. (Because we can’t love our neighbor unless we are loving God.)
So what do we take away from all that we have learned? Well, hopefully that things are rarely what they appear to be on the surface. That’s a good start. Second, if you’re wanting these mandates to use them against someone else, you have missed the whole point. Third, they were written by God and messed up by humans almost immediately because we’re fallen creatures, so cheers.
But no, seriously. What should we remember? Love. Love is the whole point. Run everything through that test. Is what I’m thinking, saying, doing going to serve God’s love and life, God’s justice and peace? If not, well, you may want to rethink your plans.
God’s love is messy and beautiful. But it is worth it, as Christ himself knows from real experience. As God’s own self knows from real experience. And the Holy Spirit is waiting to push us further into that fray. So… are you ready?