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Thursday, November 2, 2017

The punch line of the Bible

My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 22:34-46.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Like most people my age, I am in a hurry. All the time.  I don't have a lot of time to read the newspaper or long articles on the internet.  I get impatient if a video on Youtube is longer than 3 minutes. In other words, I (and many other people, I am sure) want straight, to the point information, no beating around the bush.  We want to know the hook, the nutshell, the point, the punch line.

The Bible is not a short book (actually, it is a collection of books, but that is perhaps for another sermon), so it is no wonder even so few Christians have read it from cover to cover.  You might ask what the point of the Bible is, what is the hook, what is the punch line?

I won't claim to have THE answer, but I can claim to have MY answer, and it is one phrase contained in today's Gospel passage:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; love your neighbour as yourself".

My New Testament professor in seminary said that this was the beating heart and soul of what the Bible has to say; everything else is just commentary.  I tend to agree.

I you ever have read the Bible from cover to cover, you will note that there are a lot of rules, particularly in the book of Leviticus.  Lots of laws and regulation that you are probably not familiar with, but some of them you likely are.  The Ten Commandments, for example.  Most of us can recite at least 4 or 5 of them: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, and so on.

In today's Gospel, Jesus is asked by a lawyer which Commandment is the most important.  This was and is still a great debate in religious and philosophical circles.  I think most of us would probably default to "Thou shalt not kill", but the problem is that when you do that, you necessarily de-prioritize the others, and that can get tricky.  They are not called "The Ten Suggestions" for a reason.

But this essentially what Jesus is being asked to do.  In other Gospel accounts of this event, the intent of the question is less hostile: the lawyer actually seems to be asking a genuine question so that he can be a wiser person.  Not the case in this Gospel.  The lawyer is trying to set Jesus up, hoping he will say something contentious so that the Pharisees and Sadducees can finally trap him.

In typical Jesus fashion, he doesn't chose any of the Ten.  Some people say that he invented an Eleventh, but this is not strictly accurate.  What he actually does is name the very foundation, the framework, the underpinning upon which all the Ten Commandments and all the other rules are actually based on:

Love for God and love for neighbour.

I would go so far as to say that the two are one and the same.

Think about it: if you really loved God and/or your neighbour, would you really have to be told not to kill them?  Not to lie to them?  Not to steal from them?  No.  That lesson would already be written on your heart.

We had to write these laws down and codify them because we are so bad at loving God and loving people sometimes.  I have said that good acid test for whether or not what you are about to do is right is to ask yourself, "Does this show love to God and/or my neighbour?"

If not, reevaluate.

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