This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on February 12th, 2017.
Can a word be preached from the book of Deuteronomy? Would it not be easier to preach from the gospel text this week or even Paul’s epistle? What does a speech of Moses for the Hebrew people before they enter the Promised Land have to say to us today? These might be tempting questions to ask yourself before you pass over this passage from Deuteronomy and continue that series on Matthew’s Gospel or Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. However, Matthew’s gospel text from last week’s lection reminded us that Jesus did not come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17). I know when I was a kid if I saw in the church bulletin that Deuteronomy was the sermon passage I could take the next hour off and wait until the next week. I just knew it would be a boring sermon. With age, though, I have come to appreciate the fact that Deuteronomy is central to understanding the Old Testament and Israel’s relationship with God. More than this, though, Jesus references Deuteronomy more than any Old Testament book save the Psalms. With this in mind, that it is neglected and rarely used in sermons is a shame.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 15, 2016.
Our text falls near the beginning of the so-called Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (chapters 14-17). Just before this, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, announced his coming betrayal, eaten the Last Supper with them, given them the “new” commandment that they love one another as he has loved them, and predicted Peter’s coming denial. At the start of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus has promised to prepare a place for them, to come again and take them to himself and to a place where he is going. He has answered Thomas’s question about the way to where he is going by pointing to himself and saying that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” That is, Jesus is the true way of life that leads to the Father.
The first part of what follows in verses 8-14 takes us deep into the identification of Jesus with the Father. This passage lays the groundwork for a more developed doctrine of the Trinity that would take nearly three hundred years to work out. What John repeatedly wants us to see is the oneness of Jesus with the Father. This oneness is a unity of persons, not a singularity. Think of it this way: When we are talking about God being one—and this is a common conversation among the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—we mean there are no other gods but God. There is one and only one God. That singularity, however, is not the issue of our text. Jesus uses the intimate language of Father to talk about what we would come to understand as the interpersonal inner character of the one Triune God.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on November 1, 2015.
The scribe’s question about which is the greatest commandment occurs at the end of a battle of wits between Jesus and Israel’s religious intelligentsia (Mark 12:13-13:34). Each move and countermove intended to sharpen an argument, entrap an opponent, or slice through logical fallacies. In this contest, the Jewish establishment puts forward contenders from various teams—Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, and legal experts—all attempting to disarm and dishonor this small-town rabbi in front of a big-city crowd.
When we reach the final round of repartee recorded in Mark 12:28-34, what is striking about the exchange between the scribe and Jesus is its positive nature. Their dialogue lacks the rancor characteristic of Jesus’ other encounters with religious leaders throughout the Gospel of Mark. The scribe, a legal expert on the Torah and also on its oral commentary, approaches Jesus not with hostility but with genuine interest evoked after seeing how well Jesus had fared with his previous interlocutors. The civility that characterizes their discussion is an embodiment of the second commandment that Jesus chooses—“You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Would that such civility and graciousness in debate were more often encouraged today as an expression of loving one’s neighbor.