The Heart of the Matter

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
October 26, 2014
Deuteronomy 6:4–9; Matthew 22:34-46

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 • “Israel, listen! Our God is the LORD! Only the LORD! Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

Matthew 22:34–46 • When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of them, a legal expert, tested him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Now as the Pharisees were gathering, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “David’s son,” they replied.
He said, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said, The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool’? If David calls him Lord, how can he be David’s son?” Nobody was able to answer him. And from that day forward nobody dared to ask him anything.

 

I. BEGINNING

Lawyers can be such idiots.

I say that, of course, as a dues paying member of the bar for these twenty years.

There are stories of attorneys—who had to at least pass the bar somewhere—ask dumb questions in court. Like the attorney who asked his witness, “How was your first marriage terminated?” to which the witness replied, “By death.” Whereupon the lawyer responded “And by whose death was it terminated?”[1]

Or the attorney who asked a medical witness, “Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?”

Of course, lawyers are not alone in this.

I guess I will never cease to be shocked at the stupid things that seemingly intelligent, well-educated people do.

President Clinton, one of the brightest individuals to have occupied the Oval Office, nevertheless thought it was a good idea to have a sexual encounter with a White House intern in that same office. Albert Einstein, purportedly forgot his own address and asked a cabbie to take him to “Einstein’s house.”[2] Stephen Glass, a reporter at The New Republic fabricated over twenty articles that he wrote for that magazine. It’s a boneheaded move in any day and age but downright moronic in the internet era. Talk show host and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer while on the city council of that city had to resign from office after it became clear that he had solicited the services of a “massage parlor” prostitute, and paid for it with a check that police found when they raided the place.[3]

So, yeah, smart people can do and say some really dumb things.

Which brings us back to the gospel lesson and the lawyer we find there.

II. THE TEXT

So, the Sadducees, who do not believe in life after death, have just asked Jesus a question that they hoped would make a mock of his (and the Pharisees’) belief in the resurrection of the dead. It didn’t; instead Jesus answers quite well and according to the text, left the Sadducees “speechless.”

And so then comes a lawyer to “test” Jesus and he does so by asking “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answers:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

So, we get this scene where in the middle of answering challenging theological questions, Jesus is able to articulate the heart of the law and then go even further so that by the end, “Nobody dared to ask him anything.”

But here’s the thing where I question this lawyer’s wits: how does he not know this already?

It’s the most famous commandment in the entirety of the Jewish tradition. It’s called the Shema, from the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen” that begins the passage. It is a passage that is read in every Jewish prayer service. And the passage from Deuteronomy makes it clear that it is also encountered many other times (or intended to be).

I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

Many Jews even interpret the last part quite literally and bind leather phylacteries with a small box containing this verse on their foreheads and on their arms. And very many Jews write them on their house doorframes by putting mezuzahs (Hebrew for doorpost) on their door frames. So, let’s be clear about this: there is no way this is one of the secret teachings of Judaism. Everyone knows this one.

So the question is, on some level, idiotic. It’s like asking an American “What should we pledge our allegiance to?” Or asking a Star Trek fan “What directive is the most important of all the directives?” Or a member of Fight Club, “What’s the first rule of Fight Club?”

How do you not know this?

III.  HOW WE DON’T KNOW

Of course, the lawyer must know this. So the only thing I can think of is that (1) he falsely assumes Jesus doesn’t or that Jesus thinks perhaps some other commandment is more important, or (2) he’s hoping Jesus will come up with something else. Perhaps something easier to do.

Because here’s the thing about smart people saying and doing dumb things: they know that they’re doing dumb things, they just want to do them. Bill Clinton had to know that it was a dumb idea, but he wanted to do it. The same thing with pretty much every dumb decision made by politicians. It’s not that they don’t know—it’s that they don’t care.

And so here, the legal expert probably knows what the main commandment is. He probably just doesn’t want to do it. And maybe is looking to see if Jesus has come up with some less labor intensive way of doing things.

It’s the same reason we wrestle with these questions of what is important in faith. It’s not that we don’t know. It’s that we do know but are hoping for some other, perhaps easier, more formulaic answer.

Because the thing we’re commanded to do: love God with all our heart, being, (mind), and strength, is not easy.

IV. WHAT’S SO HARD

What’s so hard about it?

It’s everything we don’t like to do. Love often stands with hate as a preference of choice, as people often choose to love one thing and hate the other. Love is a complex series of behaviors and relationships, some that are not in our own interest.

Loving God involves more than showing up to church and saying that we love God, because it says that we have to love our neighbors, even when we can’t sometimes stand to be around our own family members. It’s hard to treat everyone well in everyday life; it’s hard to do the loving thing and live in right relationship with one another.

It involves love of neighbor. Loving our neighbors is how we love God. In the words of the old Shaker hymn “If ye love not each other in daily communion, how can ye love God whom ye have not seen?” How can we love God when we haven’t yet found out how to love our neighbors?

Arguing over rules and doctrine is so much easier than love, which requires constant work and discernment, and that we fully commit to the idea of love.

Our love of God is not something we can profess; it is something we have to do.

V.   END

It’s not that we don’t know what we’re supposed to do.

When Israel asked God whether they were sacrificing enough, God via the prophet Micah tells them that they have known all along what is good: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

When the lawyer asks Jesus what the most important commandment is he responds with the most familiar and frequently cited commandment of the Law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, being, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

We know and we don’t want to do it.

But Christian faith isn’t about what we know. It’s about living out our faith with our very reason, our being, and all our power. That is what it means love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

We’ve been called to love.

 


 

Notes

[1] http://www.bailyes.com/funny_image_gallery_lawyer_questions.htm I feel the need to defend the attorney here and point out that while it sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to ask, the attorney is likely asking the question to get the information into the record, since he cannot lead the witness by saying, “Your wife died” nor did the witness actually say “My wife died.” But still, there had to be a better way to have gotten this information into the record.

[2] https://iiteeeestudents.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/funny-interesting-stories-of-albert-einstein/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Springer