Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
Isn’t it interesting?
In our gospel reading today we learn that
“after that, no one dared to ask him any question.”
What an opportunity they wasted!
Several times throughout the gospels
we hear that people didn’t want to ask any more questions.
Sometimes it was the Pharisees,
those few who wanted to trip Jesus up,
who backed away out of intimidation perhaps,
or anger at being called out themselves.
Other times it seems that ordinary people
decided not to ask any more questions.
Were they confused and content not to push the issue?
Were they afraid?
And if so, why?
The discussion in today’s passage was not a scary one.
Jesus was not talking about angels separating wheat and chaff,
the chaff to be burned.
He wasn’t allowing an evil spirit to go into a herd of pigs
that then raced off the bluff to be drowned – nothing like that.
Today Jesus is talking about love,
and the greatest love of all,
the love between God and God’s people –
the love of neighbor for neighbor.
What could be more comforting
than learning about how we should live in love?
They should have been full of questions.
They should have been asking for examples of
how we could love our neighbor more
and how we could love God more.
But they didn’t. Isn’t that sad?
At the beginning of this passage,
we hear that Sadducees were disputing with one another
and evidently, they were asking Jesus questions.
This was a very normal way
that religious leaders of that culture
learned and taught.
A group of rabbis would sit together
discussing and debating about various points
in scripture and law.
They would pose many questions to each other –
think back on the time when Mary and Joseph
found the young Jesus in the Temple.
He was sitting in on just such a discussion
and he was being praised for his learning.
We see here that a scribe was listening to Jesus’ answers
and realized that Jesus
answered the questions posed to him very well.
So, the scribe had a perfect right to ask his own question:
“Which commandment is the first of all?”
We all know Jesus’ answer by heart.
“Love the Lord your God
with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I wonder if Jesus smiled to himself
when the scribe told him that he was right
and then referred back perhaps to Amos or Hosea
by saying that these two commandments
were more important than burnt offerings or sacrifices.
The scribe didn’t realize he was complimenting God!
What did he think when Jesus told him
he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God?
It was after that short discussion
that no one dared ask any more questions.
Perhaps the scribes were put off by the mention of the kingdom of God.
Perhaps it made them think of their own preference
for being an important part of the temple worship,
or the collection of money.
Perhaps they weren’t as interested
in loving one’s neighbor as themselves.
We don’t know if that’s the case,
because we aren’t told;
but something made them back away
from a conversation about love.
What we also need to remember
is that the word love in this context
is not the kind of love we too often think about today.
Loving with the whole heart isn’t the emotional,
huggy-feely kind of love we find on
greeting cards or in advertisements.
Loving with the heart in that day
first of all meant being loyal.
So, Jesus was talking about being loyal to God
– to God’s laws –
to the promises of the covenant the people made with God.
Included with being loyal to God
was being loyal to your neighbor.
Because they knew their scriptures,
the Jews knew that being loyal to their neighbor
meant that they would care for their neighbor,
feed the hungry,
make provisions for the poor,
the widow and the orphan.
No one would have a surplus where others were going hungry.
Maybe the Sadducees were afraid that
if they asked any more questions,
Jesus would point out to them
that they were not doing too good a job as
religious leaders in showing others
how to care for those in need.
Remember, though, we don’t know
why they didn’t ask any more questions.
What we might need to consider in this passage
is whether we might have asked any more questions.
This is one of those passages
that most of us could recite by heart.
I’m certain we’d all like to think of ourselves as the scribe –
asking Jesus a thoughtful question, and
being praised for our own interpretation of his answer.
And yes, of course, there are those days
when we do understand and work toward being
even more loving – loyal –
in our relationship with God and
with others in our lives.
But we must also be honest in considering when we aren’t.
In today’s culture, we don’t like to talk about sin,
our own personal sin or
the sin we see in the world.
We may not think about this “loving my neighbor as myself” thing
when we don’t particularly like that neighbor
or we are against a particular issue
or we don’t want “that kind of person”
coming to our church or
moving into our neighborhood.
The poor are no longer in far-away countries,
they are – sadly, too often – us.
Maybe, just maybe,
the Sadducees didn’t want to ask any more questions
because they were afraid of being overwhelmed
with Jesus’ answer about what they,
as religious leaders,
must do to show their loyalty to God and neighbor.
Maybe we’re overwhelmed
with all the needs in today’s world –
needs of our own for our own families.
What’s the problem here?
Is there is really too much to care about?
It would be an impossible burden for one person,
but for all of us together,
there is a chance.
We need not to be afraid to ask any more questions.
We need to ask more.
We need to ask more people to work together with us.
We might need to be willing to ask for help for ourselves.
If we truly believe the
two great commandments are important in our lives,
then we should be like the folks in today’s passage.
For once I would say, be like the Sadducees –
talk to others about what the scriptures mean to you.
Question and think about what God is calling us to do about
the kingdom of heaven
that is here already if we just live into it.
Dare to ask God questions and then listen for the answer.
Dare to ask each other questions about
how we can live out these two great commandments.
We can dare to do this because we’re not alone.
God has promised to be with us.
We have a new Bishop with us.
We have our brother and sisters from St. Francis
worshipping and ministering with us
to help other neighbors in need.
There is no reason to fear.