There was a meteorologist on TV who had a terrible record of forecasting what the weather would be. He became a local joke when the newspapers and the local bloggers began keeping a record of his predictions.
When he reached 100 wrong predictions in a single year, he was fired. So the meteorologist moved to another part of the country and applied for a similar job. One of the blanks on the job application asked for the reason why he left his previous job.
He wrote: “The weather didn’t agree with me.” We laugh, but I think we all like to stretch the truth to fit our own situation. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.
Jesus never stretches the truth to fit the situation. Jesus tells it like it is.
In today’s Gospel (Matt 22:34-40), the Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus. On Mount Sinai God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. But over the centuries, they expanded these 10 Commandments to 613 Commandments. Some were “weighty, “ like committing murder. Some were “light,” like building a fire on the Sabbath. So to trick Jesus, they asked him which was the Greatest Commandment.
Jesus winds up giving the best definition of religion we will ever have. Jesus uses a couple of quotes that had been around for a couple of thousand years. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.”
Then Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the second greatest commandment.”
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that even though these two quotations had been around for thousands of years, Jesus was the FIRST person to put the two of them together.
People thought that if they went to temple and prayed and tithed and showed God that they loved him, they could go out and treat their neighbor like dirt, curse at him and gossip about him or her. To paraphrase the Las Vegas phrase: “What happens in temple or church, stays in the temple or the church.”
What Jesus is saying is: “You can’t really love God and not really love your neighbor.” And if you are really and truly loving your neighbor, in effect, you are really and truly loving God, whether you realize it or not. Why? Because you are loving God’s children.
For years, you and I have heard sermons about our going to church, praying, contributing and loving God and then going out and cutting someone off in the parking lot. And it goes beyond the parking lot. There will be a barrage of expletives to someone at home or the silent treatment. There will be gossiping and put-downs of candidates in the coming election. With the election only a week away, do you see those you disagree with as an adversary or as a neighbor?
We hear about the terrorists saying that they love God and worship God. Then they go out and kill others and themselves. This is sheer madness.
We too need to look in the mirror. We pray and we say we love God, yet we leave church and we cause a lot of pain and harm for our family and our neighbors.
What Jesus is doing here in the Gospel is uniting the Vertical (us and God) and the Horizontal (us and our neighbors and family members). Where does the Vertical and the Horizontal really come together for Jesus? With his death on the cross.
The last words Jesus speaks on earth from the cross unites the Horizontal and the Vertical. He is so worried about who is going to take care of and love his mother – the Vertical. So he says to John, “Son, behold your mother.” And his very last words are the Vertical: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
With his death and with his 33 years of life, Jesus was trying to teach us that what life is all about is relationships – loving relationships with God and with others. Life is not about money, success, material possessions, work, technology, or sporting events. Life is all about our relationships with each other and with God.
A good friend of mine is a gastroenterologist. He once told me that family members often come to him and insist that he do anything and everything he can to keep their parents alive for another four to six months, even though their parents were at death’s door.
My doctor friend thought that children and family members were pleading for this because there was unfinished business to do, like wills and living trusts. No, what he discovered was because of quality of life issues. The children, grandchildren and family members needed time to say how much they appreciated them, how well they raised them and how sorry they were for all the hurt they caused their parents. Most of all they needed another four to six months to tell them how much they loved them.
How have YOU struggled in your lifetime to unite the love of God with the love of your neighbor?
WHY PRAY TODAY? BECAUSE GOD CAN DO MORE IN A SECOND THAN WE CAN DO IN A LIFETIME!