Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” From the Gospel according to St. Luke.
The Law of Moses was the defining code of behavior for the Hebrews. As you know from your reading of the Old Testament, or at least hearing it in church on Sundays, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, having sold themselves to Pharaoh during the terrible famine that occurred during the time of Joseph.
By the time of Moses, the Hebrews had been slaves a very long time. The only law of the land was that of Pharaoh, and it was enforced by the slave masters. The Hebrews were a rag tag group who were so impoverished that they stole from each other to survive. It was even possible for one to kill another for enough food to eat, or to settle an argument. Permanently.
When Moses had successfully brokered the release of the Hebrew slaves, thanks to the intervention of the LORD God, he had to lead these people out of Egypt to a land promised them by God. As we know, the people were less than patient after their release. They complained about not having enough food or water, and while Moses was on the mountain listening to God, they built and idol of gold and worshiped it. Do you get the feeling that these people did not deserve to be saved?
Almighty God knew something about them that perhaps they didn’t know themselves. He knew that once a covenant relationship was established they would obey him. In return he promised to prosper them, making them fruitful in their undertakings, in their bodies, in their livestock and soil.
As we also know from their history, the Law of Moses became much greater than the Ten Commandments. It grew to involve the dietary laws, the myriad of codes for the ceremonial vestments of the priests, and the rules for proper sacrifices to be offered at the altar of the temple.
The main point of the Law was the code of conduct, that towards God and toward each other. And of course wherever there are laws, there are lawyers.
From our Gospel reading today, A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Do you think this was an honest question? Was the lawyer sincere, or was this really a test? So to confound the lawyer, he answers the question with a question.
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
These of course are the Two Great Commandments which Jesus quoted when asked by another lawyer, which is the greatest commandment.
The Commandments, or the Law of Moses, were put into place so that the Lord’s covenant with the people could flourish.
The first four of the Commandments were about the Lord God. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” The rest are, No graven images or idols, do not use the Name of the Lord in vain, and honor the Sabbath Day.
The remaining six of the Ten Commandments dealt with how the Hebrews should treat each other. If they were going to be fruitful they had to treat each other with respect. If they wanted to continue to be blessed by God, they would respect the Commandments.
The Commandments still apply to us today, especially the Two Great Commandments which we rehearse on Sunday. To love our God with all of our hearts, and minds, our souls, and our strength is our greatest Commandment, and one that is very difficult to keep, what with a myriad of distractions in the world.
And to love our neighbors as ourselves seems to be a very tall order most of the time. The lawyer had to ask one more question; “Just who is my neighbor?” Jesus explains by way of the well known parable, of the Good Samaritan, and once that question is answered, Jesus gives the Lawyer that command that he probably didn’t want; “Go and do likewise.”
This is the crux on which hangs all of the Law and the prophets. We, too, are to go and do likewise, which we do when we give money to help the poor, when we care for the sick, and serve our fellows in the Name of Jesus.
When we do these things we are imitating Jesus. When we love those who hate us, we are imitating Jesus. When we forgive those who do us harm, we are imitating Jesus. This is perhaps the hardest thing we are asked to do, but it is essential to the Christian life.
And when we have experienced the power of this forgiveness we begin to know the peace that passes understanding that Jesus promised to us. When loving God becomes the central aim of our lives we experience his peace.
“Peace I give you, my own peace I leave with you,” he said. We are not bound by the Law of Moses for our salvation, but we are bound by the Law of Love given us by our Lord. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do this, and you will have eternal life. Amen.