Jesus’ Bumper Sticker
March 6, 2016
Bumper stickers… when I’m waiting in traffic, I often take a glance. I read them and I think about the people in the car ahead… their values, their loves, their loyalties.
There are the usual ones proclaiming our love or commitment to our favorite schools, teams or politicians. Our love for country. There are the stickers for runners… I had one for a while… for your favorite causes or issues… and of course, I often am fascinated by the religious ones… that range from the more progressive, “COEXIST” sticker to the “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t the Bible” …
I’ve sometimes wondered what bumper sticker Jesus would have on his car, if he had a car… and I think I know. It would be four words: “Love God, Love Neighbor” – easy to remember…you could even tweet that…
For Jesus and actually the scribe in our story… those are the greatest of all of the commandments—of all 613 commandments.
Jesus said this was the most important one… as he was in a debate… lots of debates with religious leaders…. Heated, religious debates over things like “who gives you the right to teach… to say the things you say and do the things you do?” “By what authority are you doing these things?” Fighting words.
That’s what the leaders wanted to know… because in their way of thinking, he was dangerous… he was a heretic… a threat to faith as they know it and as it had been practiced for decades—centuries…So they start arguing with him over all sorts of religious, hot button questions:
About resurrection… divorce… Then there is that trickiest of traps… “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – those patriotic questions are always tricky. “Should you put a flag in the Sanctuary or not?”—those are fighting words for many. People have left churches over the answers to that one.
So, when the scribe comes to him in today’s text, this is not simply a nice bible study question… more is on the line… This is another test for Jesus… “Which commandment is first of all?”—
I mean, it’s harder to answer than you think. It’s like asking you,
“Which Scripture or Bible verse is more important than all of the others?”
What is interesting to me is that there was a debate about this at all. It is clear that the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes did not think all of the commandments were of equal value. Some were more important than others.
Could it be that some Scripture is more important than others? Now, don’t crucify me… I’m just asking.
In some ways Jesus raised this issue himself. People began to question whether he was loyal to the law of God or not. But he said, He came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.
But it was tricky then as it is now. It may help, to remember there was not much agreement among Jews then as there is among Christians now.
Barbara Brown Taylor broke it down for me:
“There was a Judaism of Galilee which tended to focus on the teachings of the prophets… then there was the Judaism of Judea, which leaned toward the Temple, then there was the Judaism of the Pharisees who loved the interpretation of Torah, then there was the Judaism of the Sadducees, who did not. There was the Judaism of Hillel, who taught that righteous Gentiles could enter the Kingdome of heaven, and the Judaism of Shamai, who taught they could not. Into this first century stew of Jewishness, Jesus came as one teacher among many with his strict and relaxed teaching of the Torah…Jesus was skeptical of those who gave every line of scripture the same weight. As far as Jesus was concerned, the weightier matters of the law were justice and mercy and faith… the lighter weight issues were not to be neglected, but neither were they allowed to get in the way. So when obeying a light law got in the way of obeying a heavier law, then light yielded to heavy, so that God’s will might be fulfilled.In the case of cleanliness or open fellowship, open table fellowship (with Gentiles and sinners) should take preference. Healing a withered hand or Sabbath observance? Healing a withered hand was more important. And that of course is where the trouble started. Who chose what was light and what was heavy? By what authority are such judgements made?”
I’m so glad we don’t have those kind of arguments anymore! We all agree on everything! Right. Right!
Sometimes when we get into our arguments over weightier matters of the Scripture… I think back to this conversation with Jesus and the Scribe… It sort of simplifies it… All of those commandments boil down to a few verses found in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus…
“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (not a lot of room for half-hearted devotion to God here)…
The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Do you hear what he said, “there is NO OTHER COMMANDMENT greater than these”… Love God, Love Neighbor… that would be his bumper sticker.
Of course the most important thing is not to go out and buy a bumper sticker with those words… the most important thing is to live it.Which is, as Jesus pointed out, what the scribes and religious leaders failed at doing. They could quote the commandment, but they were not living it very well.
Can we confess we have the same struggles?
Jesus gave two examples to make his point: “Beware of the Scribes who like to walk around in long robes” (looking all religious )… they devour widows houses and for appearance say long prayers. “Translated for our time: Beware of Christians who go to church, but take advantage of others through their position and power.
Then he looks at the widow giving her last two cents to the church. A story we usually lift up during Stewardship as an example for all of us. Which she is.
But scholars have convinced me that what he is really doing here is decrying the religious circumstances that demand her to make such an offering… rules of the Temple that demand a sacrifice of her that will likely leave her destitute and possibly lead to her death.
In other words, he is saying… that for all of the religiosity of the leaders… they fail to follow the great commandment… especially that second part… to love their neighbor….
Knowing the great commandment does us and others no good if we are not putting into practice. Jesus didn’t ask us to simply know it, but to live it.
Which is what he did. Jesus did not only talk about loving God and neighbor, he embodied it… In his words and deeds, he was the living justice and mercy as an expression of his love of God and neighbor. He ate with sinners and cared for the poor. He taught his followers that they could live this way as well… and that when they did… they would be living the faith as God intended us to live the faith.
This is the hard part of course. Putting it into practice. Sometimes loving God and Neighbor can look like disobedience to the keepers of the traditions of the elders and no amount of arguing can settle the dispute. Loving God and Neighbor is hard… very hard… when you put it into practice… (adapted from BBT)
I wonder what it looks like to you. At a personal level, for me, it means I measure what I put on Facebook or in emails and in conversations… Before I post something, (when I am on my game)… I run it by a filter that says, “will this text, email or posting be an expression of my love of God and neighbor”) Do you know how much damage is done to relationships when that filter is not applied? More than you may think.
Sometimes I get it right… not always… but the key thing is that the desire is there. I try to keep this commandment in mind in conversations and meetings and discussions… thinking about how my actions reflect my love of God and neighbor. Sometimes I pull it off sometimes I fail… and have to ask God and others forgiveness… which is itself another way of loving God and neighbor
The Protestant evangelist Corrie ten Boom certainly learned how to love neighbor in powerful way. I read a story about her this week. She and her family were arrested in Holland during World War II for helping the Jews escape persecution. Corrie and her sister Betsie were imprisoned with a number of other women, subject to working as slaves and receiving beatings on a regular basis. Unexpectedly, Corrie was released from the prison due to what she later found out was a clerical error. The next week the rest of the women in the prison were killed.After the war Corrie began going around preaching and teaching the Gospel of love, forgiveness, and mercy. (i.e. love God, love neighbor) In 1947, after giving a talk in Germany, she was approached by a man she recognized as one of the cruelest guards where she was imprisoned. He asked her for her forgiveness. Corrie struggled with the most difficult thing she was ever asked to do—her sister Betsie had died in that prison, and now she was asked to forgive a man who was partly responsible for her death. “Jesus, help me,” she prayed. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” She grasped the former guard’s hands, and wept. She says, she had never known God’s love more intensely than she did at that moment. (Tramp for the Lord, 55–57).
Corrie reminds me that it good to remember that loving God and loving neighbor go hand in hand… and that it needs to be more than a bumper sticker placed on a car… it needs to be a way of faith and life written on the heart if we are to live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.