The rules around Covid 19 are becoming more and more confusing. We seek clarification regarding what we can and can’t do. In Jesus’ day the Jews were required to obey 613 rules of the Torah plus those passed down by word of mouth. This made life very difficult, for example, numerous rules about not working on the Sabbath. Jesus was in conflict with religious leaders, high priests and Pharisees because he showed a different kingdom way to bring life in all its fullness. Jesus said he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it, by interpreting it with the spirit of compassion, mercy and love.
The Pharisees were always trying to discredit Jesus and catch him out on matters of the law. In the passage from Matthew, the lawyer asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus answered (from Deuteronomy) to Love your God first and foremost with all of your heart, soul and mind, as everything else follows from this. Jesus uses the word ‘your’ God to emphasise personal relationship, that he had with his father in heaven and was central to his life and ministry. When we are in relationship with God through reading our Bibles, prayer, worship and often wrestling with difficult theological questions then loving our neighbour follows. We cannot love God and not love his creation. The Quakers put it as seeing that of God in everyone.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves (from Leviticus) so we need to first love and care for ourselves. Jesus took time out to be apart and pray with his Heavenly Father, he climbed mountains with his friends, he enjoyed parties and had his feet massaged. We are not required to burn ourselves out! God puts on our hearts the things he wants us to do and does not overload us. We tend to overload ourselves and spread ourselves!
Jesus’ question to the Pharisees centres on them expecting the Messiah to follow in the footsteps of King David and be a great military leader to overthrow their oppressors. Jesus kingdom way is to love God and one another. This was radical and counter cultural, as it is today. It goes against the grain to befriend those we don’t like, who have different views to us, who are on the edge, the loveable pigeons that we heard about last Sunday.
Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells the Pharisees that he wanted to gather all folk under his wings to protect and care for them as a mother hen cares for her chicks but they would not let him. The motherhood of God was revealed to Julian of Norwich as an aspect of God’s self sacrificing love for us. I came across a poem this week that expresses this aspect of God’s love for us, by Alison Woodard:
To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted, bearing the burden of their weight, rejoicing in their returned affection, delighting in their wonder, bleeding in the presence of their pain.
St. Paul expresses this love to the Church in Thessalonica when he tells them ‘we took you just as you were and cared for you as a mother cares for her children. We loved you dearly. Not content to just pass on the Message, we gave you our hearts’.
In these strange times of confusion when all is stripped away we come back to the heart of worship - to love God with all our being and to see that we love one another.
Angela Stewart, Lay Minister