Is. Ex. 22:20-26; Ps. 18; 1 Thess. 1:5c-10; Matt. 22:34-40
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the two great commandments: To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. He concludes, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” In other words, everything handed on to us in the 10 Commandments and the Mosaic Law, can be followed by loving God and neighbor. Our reading from the Book of Exodus is an excerpt from the Social Laws promulgated by Moses. It forbids the oppression of foreigners and the neglect of widows, orphans, and the poor—a message commonly promoted by the prophets. And while there are many more laws in the Hebrew tradition, the first has always been to love God completely, and the second to love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, if we were to do a little more digging around in the Old Testament, we would find the second law written clearly in the Book of Leviticus: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Lv. 19:18).
The two great commandments were non-negotiable for the People of Israel, just as they are non-negotiable for followers of Jesus. The Pharisees were scrupulous keepers of the Law and interpreted the Commandments for others. That is why they had a scholar of the Law test Jesus by asking him which commandment in the law is the greatest. The test was to see if Jesus would prioritize any single Law over the others, which would be wrong. The Law is the Word of God and must be taken as a whole. In other words, one cannot pick and choose which laws they want to follow and which laws they can leave out. But, Jesus already dealt with this specific issue during his Sermon on the Mount, when he said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law…” (Matt. 5:17-18). And so, Jesus shows how the totality of the Law is built upon the two great commandments to love God and to love neighbor.
Our call as followers of Jesus is to keep the commandments. Remember the story of the rich young man? He came to Jesus and asked: “‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments’” (Matt. 19:16-17). By saying there is only One who is good, Jesus highlights the importance of the first commandment. Without the first, without love of God, we lack the perspective to carry out the second. But, the rich young man persists: “He asked him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus replied, ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 19:18-19). Once again, Jesus emphasizes the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus’ dialogue with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the chief priests, the elders of the people, and the Pharisees, are a strong critique of their own hypocrisy, how they themselves were guilty of the very sins they taught others to avoid. Jesus says, “[D]o and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). And what kind of example were they giving? Well, they themselves were guilty of accepting foreign money. Remember last week’s Gospel? Who was holding the Roman coin? They themselves were failing to love their neighbor by extorting them through tax collectors. Matthew, the tax collector turned disciple, could attest to this kind of corruption. They, themselves, complicated the law, but did not lift a finger to help others to carry it out. How is any of this love of neighbor?
I suppose things are not much different in our day. We, too, are faced with leaders who confuse the law, who twist and bend it to their own benefit; we, too, are faced with leaders who accept money from foreign nations, filling their own pockets, but failing to pass legislation to help those who are struggling; we, too, are faced with leaders who seek to tax our every movement, from rain tax to gas tax; we, too, are faced with leaders who tie up heavy burdens of debt, whether that be student loan debt, credit card debt, or medical debt. What would Jesus say to these leaders? What do we say to these leaders?
We Americans are approaching a political crossroad. Our country is being divided by those who wish to transform us into a Marxist-Socialist country. And as people of faith, we are also living at a spiritual crossroad. Our faith is being attacked. Marxism is wholly incompatible with the Gospel, which teaches us to love God first. Instead, Marxists want to replace God with the State, and part of the way to do this is to restrict the people’s freedom to worship. As people of faith, we ought to ask ourselves: What part of my life is God not in charge of? The answer to that question may explain why churches are either winning or losing the culture war in this country.
Pew research polls have shown that from 1943 to 2018, church membership in the United States has dropped from 78% to 50%. And today, only 42% of millennials belong to a church. If this trend continues, it is possible that within 50 years, less than 1 in 4 Americans will identify themselves with a church.
Part of the crossroad we face spiritually is holding fast to our faith, to keeping the commandments as Jesus urges us to do, to follow him as true disciples, even keeping the laws we find difficult. Part of the crossroad we face politically is upholding the Constitution and the First Amendment. And, it is important to note that our Constitution was written specifically within the context of a religious, God-fearing society. In a letter from John Adams to the Massachusetts Militia, he writes: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other…” (Quincy October 11, 1798). If we allow our Constitution to be subverted by socialists, Marxists, and revolutionaries, it will be torn up, along with our First Amendment, and be rewritten according to the misguided norms of the day. And with less than two weeks before the presidential election, we will have to make a choice that is informed by faith, morals, and religious principles. Which candidate falls more in line with the principles of one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? Which candidate falls more in line with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Sadly, I am not at liberty to say here, but I have already cast my ballot, and so should you.
May God bless America, and may God bless each and every person who keeps His commandments from sea to shining sea.
John Birch Society Video -Your Role in Winning the Culture War - https://youtu.be/Fq_nZvFDyEA
John Adams Predicted Godless America’s Modern-Day Turmoil in 1798 Letter, Kyle Langston, October 22, 2020 https://roguereview.net/john-adams-predicted-godless-americas-modern-day-turmoil-in-1798-letter/
Given during the COVID-19 pandemic.