Vicar Zachary Marklevitz


    “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” The Pharisees came to test Jesus with this question. They had heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. Even though this news would have brought the Pharisees some joy, they would have been the first to admit that silencing the Sadducees was no easy task. The Sadducees were priests and as priest in the Judean society, they had high social status. They also oversaw many formal affairs of the state and were given many religious and political responsibilities. Academically, they were offered the best resources and teachers of their time. This was no easy task to silence these scholars.


    However, the Pharisees had an impressive reputation. They ruled much of the political and religious realms of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees were eager to trap someone in their own words, especially one as well-known as Jesus. Jesus’ popularity had grown to great heights among the people. If the Pharisees could trap Jesus in his own words – especially after he silenced the Sadducees – this would result in more religious and political powers for the Pharisees.


    When they approach Jesus, one of them said, “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?” Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Jesus response shows that love is more than this idea of “free love” from the 60’s. Love is more than tolerating someone’s every action and belief. Love is hard work.

 

In the Old Testament reading, God requires us to fear Him and to walk in all His ways.  We are to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. Also, we are to keep His commandments. This is loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind. This is hard work. In fact, this work is extremely difficult. If the Pharisees had been honest with themselves, they would have admitted that Jesus’ answer was too difficult for them to follow perfectly. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit Jesus’ answer is too difficult for us to follow perfectly.

SERMON FOR TRINITY 18, OCT. 19, 2014
Vicar Zachary Marklevitz


    “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” The Pharisees came to test Jesus with this question. They had heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. Even though this news would have brought the Pharisees some joy, they would have been the first to admit that silencing the Sadducees was no easy task. The Sadducees were priests and as priest in the Judean society, they had high social status. They also oversaw many formal affairs of the state and were given many religious and political responsibilities. Academically, they were offered the best resources and teachers of their time. This was no easy task to silence these scholars.


    However, the Pharisees had an impressive reputation. They ruled much of the political and religious realms of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees were eager to trap someone in their own words, especially one as well-known as Jesus. Jesus’ popularity had grown to great heights among the people. If the Pharisees could trap Jesus in his own words – especially after he silenced the Sadducees – this would result in more religious and political powers for the Pharisees.


    When they approach Jesus, one of them said, “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?” Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Jesus response shows that love is more than this idea of “free love” from the 60’s. Love is more than tolerating someone’s every action and belief. Love is hard work.


    In the Old Testament reading, God requires us to fear Him and to walk in all His ways.  We are to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. Also, we are to keep His commandments. This is loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind. This is hard work. In fact, this work is extremely difficult. If the Pharisees had been honest with themselves, they would have admitted that Jesus’ answer was too difficult for them to follow perfectly. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit Jesus’ answer is too difficult for us to follow perfectly.


    Each day we fail to love God with our entire being. We become too involved in our own lives. Our jobs and careers demand much of us. Often, we leave the day exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually empty. Our work can, and often does empty us. Beyond work, we are consumed in a society of ‘I’s;’ iPhones, iPads, and iMacs. Social networks and personalizing everything, has encouraged us to focus on own wants and desires. We are engulfed in a society that tells us to work on our image by personalizing the world around us. We portray an image of happiness to those in the same social networks by changing profile pictures, updating a statuses and tweets, tagging friends at a local restaurant, and so go. All this is difficult work. With so much around us that is demanding our time and energy, how do we, or can we, love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind?  


    Today, we have new ways to keep busy and work hard. These new ways result into the same old sins. The same old Adam is in each one of us. Adam’s sin cursed all of man’s work. Our work is cursed because we place our efforts in vain daily routines and works. We spend our time being involved in our own lives. We fail to love God. If we’re honest with ourselves, loving God with our entire being is more than difficult – it is impossible.


    Yet, Jesus continues with his answer, “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” When Jesus says, “And the second is like it,” this is not less valuable or important than the first great commandment. To ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ is just as much part of the great commandment as ‘loving God with our entire being.’ St. Paul says in Galatians 5, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In James 2, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” To perfectly love your neighbor as yourself is to love God with your entire being. To love God with your entire being is to perfectly love your neighbor as yourself. These two cannot be separated from one another. These teachings are not one and two, but unified in thought and practice. 


From Scripture, we have learned that our neighbor is anyone we have shown mercy. We know that we are to show mercy to all people, just as God shows all people mercy. Anytime we have gossip, slander, or lie to another person, we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anytime we have joy in another’s failure, we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the same way that the Pharisees failed when they heard the Sadducees were silenced. We, too, are people of gossip, slander, and lies. We are prideful people that secretly enjoy seeing others fail. Instead of loving our neighbor with mercy, we compete with them. We fail to enrich others with our speech and knowledge, but we expect for ourselves to receive this very thing we fail to give.


To love is hard work. To love God with our entire being is impossible. To love our neighbor as ourselves is impossible. However, on this great commandment “depend all the Law and the Prophets.” The Greek for the word ‘depend,’ can also be translated ‘hang up.’ All of the commandments hang on the commandment Jesus gave to the Pharisees. All the Law and the Prophets can be summarized in this great commandment given by Jesus.


After Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question, He asked them, “What do you think about the Christ?” Why would Jesus ask this question after they had asked about the greatest commandment in the Law? He asked them this because the Pharisees’ were asking the wrong question. They were asking Jesus a question to challenge or dispute him. These questions were questions about “doing.” The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus. However, Jesus redirects the discussion, with a follow-up question: “What do you think about the Christ?” Jesus’ question is not a question about doing, but a question of who can do this.


If ALL the Law and Prophets hang on this great commandment, then asking what the great commandment is – is the wrong the question. For it is not us that all the Law and Prophets hang on – If not us, then who? “What do you think about the Christ?” The focus of the discussion shifts from what to who. Jesus redirects the conversation from us to himself. This is why he asked the Pharisees this question.


The Pharisees respond, “Son of David.” But this answer is not good enough. The Christ is more than the Son of David. He is the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Lord of David, and the Lord of all. Is this the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty and the awesome God, who takes no bribes? Indeed it is! This Jesus is! Just as the Sadducees were silenced by Jesus, also the Pharisees were unable to answer. From that day on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.


We are all held accountable for keeping the great commandment. Our failure of keeping this leads us to be silenced before God. We are muzzled like the Sadducees. We are speechless like the Pharisees. Our defense of good works is empty and helpless. The work set before us was too difficult to accomplish. Our focus was set on our hard work, which fails to love the Lord our God with our entire being. Our hard work fails to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Yet, Jesus comes to us, asking, “What do you think of the Christ?”

What do you think of His work? What do you think of the crucified Christ hanging on the cross? For all the Law and Prophets hang on the work of the Christ. In that moment, He shows the world what loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind is. In that moment, He shows the world how to perfectly love your neighbor. This is the hard work of our Lord Jesus.


“What do you think about the Christ?”


Jesus did the hard work and His forgiving work continues. His work sustains you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord. As He silenced the Sadducees and Pharisees, so He silences your old Adam. He calls you into the His fellowship through the waters of baptism. At the Altar, He gives you His body and blood. You approach the altar receiving His work, His forgiveness, and His grace. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things. We are able to give thanks to God always because of this grace that has been given to you in Christ Jesus. As you kneel at the altar, Jesus approaches you, answering His question. He shows His work as the Christ, which is now given to you. The Christ is the one who gives you forgiveness. We are able to give thanks to God always because of this grace that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.

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