On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (25th October)

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

Deut 34:1-12, 1 Th 2:1-8, Mt 22:34-46. By Rev Ellie.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. What two commandments? The first one ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Comes from the second part of Shema, which is the standard prayer that all pious Jews recite daily. Jesus then added another phrase that was popular amongst early Christian writers, but had never been used in this manner. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. The second phrase, Jesus says is ‘like’ the first. From that, we can infer that the phrases do not mean the same thing.

Your love of God, your following of Him is first and foremost. But a very close second is how you love your neighbour. Are you generous, kind, loving towards your neighbours? Then that abundant grace reflects your personality and your ease with yourself, and that you are comfortable in yourself. The opposite therefore must also be true. Stinginess suggests a miserly nature, one that begrudges others’ lavish abundance. We see that elsewhere in the Gospels, for example the expensive jar of nard that was poured on Jesus’ feet and Judas’ response.

Coming back to today… ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ In other words, Everyone is your mirror. Herman Hesse wrote in 1919’s Demian, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him/her that is part of yourself.” I am reminded of the saying from earlier in Matthew’s Gospel; “How can you say to your neighbour, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” That saying can be applied so often in our lives, in all sorts of different situations. Where it is pointed out to us that what we dislike about someone, is already an issue in our life. I use it as a check. What is annoying me about a person? I then ask God to show me where that same issue is in my life and work through that with Him.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Carl Jung is quoted as saying: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Everyone is our mirror. Yet, we are also asked to see Christ in everyone we meet. It’s a stark juxtaposition and can it make for uncomfortable bedfellows.

Kolyanne Russ, a blogger wrote that [sic]: “Most of the Times, We Hold Others to a Standard We Impose on Ourselves.” And that can lead us to despise others who don’t meet our ideal. Yet, that goes against what we know about God. He doesn’t ask for His ideal. He doesn’t ask us for our ideal. No. He asks us to come as we are, broken, ragged, hurt, despised. And he loves us just the same. And he loves each of us equally, without any caveats. He loves us with all his heart, unconditionally. So we come back to these two commandments.

On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. I’ve always had an image of a tree with a broken branch which represents the Law and the Prophets, and wondered why that branch was mostly broken. Reading about this passage in ‘Feasting on the Word,’ I think my image isn’t actually that far from the truth. These two phrases, that are ‘like’ each other, but not the same are represented by the tree. All the Law – what one is allowed or not allowed to do, and all the Prophets tenuously hang on to the love that God has for us and the love we have for God. 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ In this statement we’re asked to hold nothing else dear. There is no Law that comes anywhere close to the love that God has for us and that we should have for God. The phrase that is like this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ sets a standard, in that if you see everyone as a mirror and therefore see yourself warts and all, you are then able to see how you may improve yourself. Remembering of course, to take the log out of your own eye first before attempting to remove a speck from your neighbour’s eye.

So how much of the Bible is given over to the Law? We know that most of what we call the Old Testament is a social history of the Jewish people. But how much of that is Law? The traditional term for the first five books of the Bible is the ‘Pentateuch’ or ‘Law.’ The Hebrew word ‘Torah’ that is usually translated ‘law’ has a much broader meaning than what we have in English. Torah derives from the verb ‘to teach’ or ‘to instruct.’ Think briefly of the ten commandments. Think of the way you might have been taught them ‘Thou shalt not…’ or ‘You will not’ or ‘Don’t do…’ I wonder if it would change our perspective if we were to look on them as instruction. ‘Please don’t…’

All the laws and ritual legislation found in the Old Testament are not restrictions hemming God’s people in – rather they are part of God’s wisdom. Much in the same way that we conduct our church services today. We are provided with a liturgical framework to help guide our thoughts to the point of where we ask for God’s forgiveness, and having received of God through the Eucharist, we go out on His great commission. That is why all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Without these two commandments everything else is dross. The social history and Paul’s letters and the Psalms are nothing without love. 

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ What does that look like? It looks like this.

“I will worship, with all of my heart
I will praise you, with all of my strength
I will seek you, all of my days
I will follow, all of your ways

I will give you, all my worship
I will give you, all my praise
You alone, I long to worship
You alone, are worthy of my praise.”

                           Jeremy Camp.

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