epiphany 7a: loving those who give us the willies

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Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament

We are so familiar with Jesus’ command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. What many aren’t as familiar with though, is that this command is a redaction of two Old Testament laws:

Deuteronomy 6:5
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Leviticus 19:18
Love your neighbor as yourself.

We typically think of Jesus transcending the laws of the Old Testament: Jesus, and the Gospel, is about grace.

And, yet, in Matthew 5, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t ignoring the laws of the Old Testament.

He’s re-issuing them.

Like Moses, ascending the mountain of the Lord to receive the law etched in stone, Jesus ascends the mountaintop with a vast multitude, and gives the law of God. Again.

Anew.

In some ways he takes the law to whole new levels, as we saw last week with lust and anger being extensions of adultery and murder.

But, sometimes he just quotes directly.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his listeners, and us, to love our neighbor.

Of course, we’re used to this command being tied in with it’s twin. (Love the Lord your God…) And, I think, we’re also used to it being reinterpreted in the story of the Good Samaritan.

But, here, on the mountaintop, if we take the time to listen closely to the sermon on the mount, and filter out our other preconceptions, it can take on a new hue.

I’ve often thought that the Great Commandment of Jesus gives us enough fodder to ponder, and try to live out, to keep us busy for a lifetime. We spend a lot of time in the church arguing about this-and-that. And, sometimes those arguments are important theological conversations to be had.

Sometimes they just plain bog us down, though.

We are told explicitly by God, and Christ, to love our neighbor as ourself.

And so we must wrestle, as the questioning lawyer did, with figuring out who exactly our neighbor is.

Then we need to work on loving ourselves, rightly and humbly, before we can truly attempt to love another.

And, then we must work on loving our neighbor in the same fashion we love ourselves.

And, here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands the circle one more time: love of neighbor includes loving your enemies.

Here, in the fifth chapter of Matthew, it’s one-and-the-same.

As if loving our neighbor isn’t hard enough, our enemies are part of the mix. Religious enemies. Political enemies. Family, or historic, enemies. Intellectual enemies.

The kind of enemies that would dance on your grave.

Love them. THEM.

We could even expand our understanding of this verse to ‘opponents,’ not just enemies. “Enemies” carries a lot of weight.

At the least Jesus is asking us, once again, to love those we don’t usually hang out with. The people we avoid. Those who we’d give a double-take to if they walked into our church. Those we’d rather shelter our kids from.

The people who give us the willies.

Love them. Pray for them.

Here, Jesus quotes from the Old law, and he takes it to whole new levels.

Living with the values of the Kingdom, and the Sermon on the Mount, entails serious work on love.

Really, it should keep us busy for a while.

And, for always.