I was an elementary school teacher before entering the monastery. One of the things a teacher learns is that it’s important from time to time – particularly after the summer break – to go back to the basics. You can’t build or make progress without a good foundation, so it’s important to make sure your students have a solid grasp of the basics before moving on to new or more challenging subjects.
Going back to the basics appears to be what Jesus the teacher is doing here. Our gospel text today comes at the end of several tests that the Pharisees and scribes have put before Jesus. It is clear that their intention is to trap him[i] into saying something that would either offend the authorities or turn the crowds against him. To this point, he has successfully eluded these traps.
Here is another trap. “Teacher,” someone asks, “which commandment is the greatest?” If they can trick Jesus into picking a favorite command, he’ll be guilty of downplaying the other commandments. Since every commandment represents the very word of God, picking and choosing among them would be heretical. They are trying to force him into an impossible situation where any answer he gives can be challenged. I suppose it’s a little like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite. Choosing one of their children will make the others feel less important or less loved. The wise parent will say, “I love them all the same.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46
I became a fan of football my freshman year of college at the University of South Carolina where I was in the marching band. Even though I had been to many football games in high school, I didn’t find them very exciting and was more interested in socializing with my friends in band than watching the game. College football was different. The sole purpose of the marching band was to support the football team and to boost school spirit and I found it to be great fun. So, I started to learn what the game of football was all about, little by little. This was daunting for me because I didn’t want my friends to know that I had no clue as to what was going on. So I tried to learn the rules quietly. When a friend would give me a high five and yell something about a touchback I’d try to save face by being excited too but inside my head I was yelling “What’s a ‘touchback?”
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46
Tender is not a word that easily comes to mind when I think of Saint Paul or Leviticus. Usually Paul seems sharp or at times condescending and sometimes downright confusing. Leviticus, so concerned with purity laws is downright off putting, because I often feel that I could never make the grade, even if I wanted to. But this morning tender is the very word that springs to mind when I read them both. Listen again to Paul:
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring
for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we
are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God
but also our own selves, because you have become very dear
Matthew 22: 34-46
We brothers sometimes have occasion to listen to people who are attempting to discern God’s will for their lives. They may have reached a certain juncture in life or they may be facing an important decision, and they want to know what it is that God wants them to be or to do in this next stage of their life. They’re often asking, “What is that God wants from me at this moment or in this particular situation?”