RCL Year A Proper 25 Alternate Readings
Leviticus 19:1-2 and 15-18, Psalm 1, I Thessalonians 2:1-8, Saint Matthew 22:34-46

A Pharisee, who is a lawyer, asks Jesus a question to test him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”[1] In the Gospels appointed for proclamation on Sundays, usually and lately, the dynamics between Jesus and his questioners color the encounters. But less so here. A Pharisee, a lawyer, as I said, asks Jesus a question to test him, to get the better of him, after he has silenced the Sadducees in a Gospel the Lectionary appoints for another time.

Here the questioner asks a straightforward question, and Jesus gives a straightforward answer. Which commandment is the greatest, and the answer is the Summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18. The Leviticus reading made it in today’s Lessons, but the Deuteronomy reading did not. The writers of the Lectionary seem to think we need a greater reminder to love our neighbor than we need a reminder to love God. They are probably right.

The commandment to love our neighbor does not call for feelings, feeling sorry or feeling pity for the needy. We are not commanded to have feelings. We are commanded to do something. Loving is doing. This commandment requires practical action. Jesus himself demonstrates his love in word and in action. He provides practical help according to people’s needs. He gives food to the hungry and healing to the sick. He defends the poor, children, and women. He welcomes with love those whom others exclude as sinners, outcasts, and foreign. In the end Jesus gives his own life in order to save the lives of others. I have used the present tense, for Jesus continues to do all these things through the human agents committed to continuing his ministry in the world.

We who bear the name of Christian are commanded to do as he does. We cannot be a Christian and neglect our neighbor. It is not good and it is not enough to give God or our neighbor simple lip service. By loving God and our neighbor in practice we demonstrate that our faith is alive and that Jesus is alive in us.

[1] Saint Matthew 22:36.