Following with Passion: “Loving God and Neighbor” Matthew 22:34-46

Mountville Mennonite Church Jan 8, 2012
by Nelson Okanya

This is my third time here at Mountville and I see some familiar faces as I look at you. I know your pastor well from my short-term involvement with EMM while he was serving as the director of EMM’s then, Discipleship Ministries, in fact it was him who called me in Nairobi fourteen years ago and invited me back to the States to co-lead a STAT team to Kenya after my YES outreach and things moved in the direction they have moved since then to where the Lord has led us to. I appreciate Keith’s love and passion for the Lord as well as the many teachings I received from him while in the YES and STAT programs as well as on staff at the Baltimore Discipleship Center particularly his teaching on “foundational building blocks of discipleship; Knowing, Being and Doing.”

I was deeply impacted by this teaching partly because I went through it at least more than three times but mainly because of the truth it imparted on my life as a disciple of Jesus. Today one of my passions is discipleship. I am grateful to the Lord for leaders like your pastor Keith who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and seek to empower and release young people into ministry.

Our topic today is on a topic that your pastor already introduced this morning and will be talking about more this year, “Following with Passion.” We will look at Matthew 22:34-46. I believe that there is no better example of following with passion than Jesus our Lord. When I read Matthew 22 in preparation for this morning, I was perplexed by the hostility Jesus was experiencing in his ministry at that point. It sort of reminded me about the hostility that people who are serious about Jesus experience in our world today some worse than others depending on where you live, but I also found the text ironically ending on an upbeat note, Jesus had scored a home run to use today’s expression. He triumphed over his opponents by answering all their questions and left them speechless; on the contrary, his opponents were unable to answer his questions even though they were the elites of the day.

Our focus this morning will be on some few exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees. From the previous section of this text, Jesus had just left the Sadducees speechless on the resurrection question since they did not believe in it (by the way that is why they are so sad you see), now the Pharisees who agreed with Jesus on the resurrection raised a different question.

A Law expert demanded to know from Jesus’ perspective which of the commandments was the greatest. In his response, Jesus pointed him to what he already knew; he pointed to the very heart of Judaism, to the Shema, the prayer that any devout Jew recited every morning and evening (Dt 6:4-5). The Shema was a sort of orientation for the Jews; it reminded them of their own story and called them to love God with unwavering loyalty, total abandonment which is the very foundation of the covenant people.

The shema reminded them that they were God’s people. They were reminded and still reminds them that their God is only one God, the creator and more importantly the Lord of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Sarah and Rebecca, who had delivered them from the Egyptian bondage by an outstretched arm and a strong right hand who also spoke to them at Sinai through Moses and gave them the Law that set them a part from other peoples. This God needs to be given all of one’s total allegiance.

The first half of Jesus’ response came from Dt 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel; The LORD is our God, the LORD alone, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” And the second half from Lev. 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Biblical scholars tell us that the Hebrew word Shema means, “hear” but also means “obey.” This word rooted them in the firm conviction that they had heard God and they were to obey God. They were to be singularly committed to the LORD their God. But it confounds us that to the singular question, “which is the greatest commandment” Jesus added: “And a second is like it: In other loving God with all our being connects us with God’s missional purpose. As such, the first commandment and the second are distinct, loving neighbor does not equal loving God, but loving neighbor effectively happens when we fully love God.

We can deduce from this text that Jesus operated from a God centered foundation, a foundation that cannot be separated from who he really was. Love for God is the best place for believers to begin love for others. It is this love that casts out all fear, it cast out fear of the cross for Jesus and it ought to cast out the fear of fellow humans, the fear of the world around us and ultimately the fear of death. This powerful and transforming love is the catalyst for living and passionately following the one who loved us and gave his life for us. This first responsibility empowers believers as they constantly look to God’s love as the reason for living and loving others.

When the double command to love God and neighbor is taken seriously, not just the law, but, “the whole law” and the prophets is fulfilled Jesus said, this is because to whole heartedly give yourself to God and care for people is what it is all about.

Jesus’ reference to this deeply embedded practice made it very hard for his opponents to accuse him for proposing a new teaching. But one of the questions that came to my mind was whether they were actually practicing their prayer. Did their confession of faith translate into how they lived their lives? This question led me to wonder whether Jesus’ question was a question of renewal? Could this be similar to the story of our Anabaptist forbearers who observed a church that confessed faith in Jesus but lived no differently from the world? This is ought to be our question as well today.

Lets move to the question that Jesus posed to these opponents then to get the whole picture. “Is the Messiah David’s son or David’s master?” This question must have come as a surprise to the Pharisees. They knew that the Messiah was David’s son, but they could not explain how it was that Psalm 110 talks about the Messiah being David’s Lord. As such, they had no answer ironically the Messiah was right in front of them. If only they would have realized that fact and asked Jesus things might have developed differently perhaps.

The point I believe is, Jesus was about to fulfill in himself the greatest commandments through the horrific and shameful event of being hung on a cross. Through this event, Jesus believed that he would be exalted and enthroned as their true king and Lord and as such be David’s Lord and by extension ours as well. This is so key to our ability to follow Jesus with passion, failure to see the point in Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ question and Jesus’ question to the Pharisee’ is to miss a very important foundation for Christian discipleship.

Of course Jesus was the son of David (Matt. 1:1), but such a title and its understanding among the Jews of Jesus’ day would not necessarily have led to loving God with one’s whole heart and mind and love neighbor as one’s self. This is because their Messianic expectation was a military triumph and obviously such a triumph hardly leads to the double command that we have been reflecting on this morning.

Contrary to that expectation then, this Son of David embraced the cross not as a cosmetic symbol that we have made it to be today but as symbol of shame and death. The cross disarms opponents and points to a yieldedness, which the early Anabaptists called Galesenheit, Jesus yielded to the one he knew as Abba and entrusted himself to the father’s and through it, he defeated his enemies not through the weapons of war far but rather through submitting and yielding himself to God’s will, purpose and means. Through the cross then, Jesus reclaimed his rightful place in accordance with Psalm 110. It is that kind of love that leads to love of neighbor, a love that compels us to do God’s mission both in our neighborhoods but also across the street and around the world and particularly to places where the church is weak or non-existent.

It is that perfect love that casts out all fear, fear of other humans, fear of the world order, fear of the downturn economy, fear of others who do not look like us etc. Loving others according to the teachings of Jesus is founded in loving God with all we have. Boldly following Jesus requires a deep revelation of who Jesus was and is. Like Jesus, we can only follow with passion…while we remain centered firmly in Jesus our Lord and such following will lead to us living as God’s missional people in the world.

Personal Story……….
Amen!

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