We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary Pentecost 22, Proper 25, Oct. 29, 2023

I.Theme –    Love as the greatest of God’s commandments.

 "The Greatest Commandment "  – From Wortle

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
Psalm – Psalm 1 Page 585, BCP
Epistle –1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Gospel – Matthew 22:34-46

These passages this week echo the challenge of the Christian journey. We have moments when we see God’s reign breaking through in this world–moments of justice, of hope, of peace–and other times, it seems like war, poverty and famine will continue forever. But we do not lose hope, and we know that our part counts in the reign of God. And our part is to create equitable relationships with those around us. We can’t expect to save the world but we can seek to maintain relationships with those around us. 

Leviticus provides a taste of the holiness codes of Israel, on how to live in community with one another. Leviticus is one of the most difficult books to read in the Bible, mainly for the listing of codes and laws that do not necessarily make sense in today’s society, and we are missing the context, both historically and culturally for understanding the application of them. However, the theme of how to live together in community is a theme that transcends some of the cultural and historical context–when decisions or judgments have to be made in the context of community, you can’t show partiality, but you have to be just. In connection with the Gospel the statements on our neighbors concern us – avoiding hatred, vengeance, grudges and basically love your neighbor

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Paul shares about his journey to Thessalonica, not physically, but rather how he has come to be there on his journey of faith–coming not to judge or to trick them or to test them, nor to please them or flatter them, but simply coming as they are, people who follow God. Echoing back to the passage in Leviticus, Paul is coming as a person of the community of faith–treating the Thessalonians as such, and expecting the same treatment in return. Paul tells them “so deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our very selves” (vs 8). To Paul, telling about God is one thing–living it out is what we are called to do, by sharing ourselves fully with the members of the faith community–being our honest and true selves, without trickery or deceit, without slander or gossip or hate in our hearts–but to be genuine people that follow Christ.

Psalm I extols the blessedness of one who avoids the path of the wicked and walks in the way of wisdom and life. The psalm is built around two contrasting images, that of a tree planted by streams of water and that of chaff in the process of winnowing the grain. The former is an image of the righteous, the latter of the wicked. The former person is ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’, the latter is perishing.

The tree prospers by fulfilling its purpose of bearing fruit in its season. God has ordained that this is a process which takes time, indeed, a different time for each individual. We prosper by growing in grace, coming to maturity, and bearing fruit. Material prosperity is not the principle focus of this text.

The law was not only the source of specific rules and regulations, but it was also intended to teach the Israelites principles which would govern their actions. The fundamental issue underlying the Sermon on the Mount was over the interpretation of the Old Testament law

Matthew’s passage is on the Greatest Commandment. Jesus has been leading up to this pinnacle teaching in his parables and teachings about the kingdom or reign of God.  This passage represents the third of three attempts to entrap Jesus, after he has entered Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey, with a large crowd spreading cloaks and branches on the road as they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” 

After the Pharisees and the Sadducees have questioned him, a lawyer asks him which is the greatest commandment. On the face of it, the question appears very honest. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Two hundred forty-eight were positive (“thou shalt”) and three hundred sixty-five were negative (“thou shalt not”). How could anyone remember all of them? Were some more important than others?

And Jesus sums up the commandments in the recitation of the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and with the call “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He was the first to place both of these side by side.

Both of these commandments sum up the Ten Commandments, for the first four are about relationship with God and the last six are about relationship with each other in the community. But Jesus goes further in saying, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In Jesus’ day, the Bible that the Jews knew had the Torah, the Law, the first five books–and it contained the books of the prophets (the Psalms and other writings were still being compiled). Basically, Jesus is saying that this is the point of the whole Bible. Everything else hangs on it. All other laws, codes, rules, ordinances and such fall under these two commandments. This is the point of the whole thing.

After answering this question, however, Jesus poses a question to the Pharisees about whose son the Messiah is. Jesus is trying to emphasize that the Messiah is the son of God, not just of David–in other words, the Messiah, while prophesied about in Hebrew scripture and understood in Jewish culture, is a Messiah for the world, not just for the people. Jesus is not just the son of David as a descendant of David, but Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore a Messiah for all people. And therefore Jesus’ teachings about loving others and loving God are beyond the community present but are teachings to be lived out by all who follow Jesus. They are beyond the law and culture of one people, but for the whole world.

II. Summary

Old Testament –  Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18

The book of Leviticus is part of the strand of priestly material woven into the Bible from Genesis to Joshua. It blends together worship requirements for purity and ethical obligations of righteousness that should character¬ize the covenant community.

Freed from slavery in Egypt, the people have not entered the land promised to them, and these laws look ahead to the time when they have settled in their homeland, outlining the way in which they are to conduct their lives once they are residents in the land promised to them.

Today’s reading is drawn from the holiness code (chaps. 17–20). Holiness describes the unique attribute of God that sets God apart from all creation. So the holiness enjoined in these chapters is not achieved by the actions or qualities of human beings, but by the community’s contact with God, whose presence alone makes them holy.

Chapter 19 echoes the provisions of the Ten Com¬mandments. Special attention is given to behaviors that build up the community’s integrity. Each member of the community has the responsibility to show in their actions the love that binds them into God’s community.

Verses 11-18 are a number of instructions about living with members of the community and picks up the emphases in the second half of the decalogue finishing with the second half of the great commandment. These are the ways in which the community was expected to live and thereby being holy

1. You shall not render an unjust judgment;
2. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great:
3. With justice you shall judge your neighbor.
4. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,
5. You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor:
6. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;
7. You shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
8. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people,
9. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

This community will be one in which the love of others permeates every aspect of their daily life. The law is more clearly seen as another gift of God’s graciousness for the sake of life and well-being rather than burden. Oedience to the law is seen, not as a response to the law as law, but as a response to the story of all that God has done;

Leviticus 19:18b, joined with Deuteronomy 6:5, is the basis for the summary of the law in today’s gospel.

Psalm –  Psalm 1 Page 585, BCP

The Psalms, opens with a poem about ethics, lifestyle, and decisions. What is meant by ‘happiness’ is spelled out in the course of the Psalm. The way to happiness is through a life well lived according to the guidelines set down by the Lord, and the way to destruction is to lead an evil, lawless life—a life in disregard of Torah. The goal is a changed life.

1. The care for daily needs in detail and proficiency and for the needs of those around us – are part of the wisdom that is seen as righteousness.

2. The heart of all wisdom – a faithful pursuit of the way of God in the world. This is especially important to acknowledge in relation to those things which we might refer to as ‘worldly wisdom’, i.e. those concerned with how we live and work in the world at large on a daily basis, even the most mundane of tasks

The psalm is built around two contrasting images, that of a tree planted by streams of water and that of chaff in the process of winnowing the grain. The former is an image of the righteous, the latter of the wicked. The former person is ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’, the latter is perishing.

The structure of Psalm 1 is straightforward. The entire Psalm extols the blessedness of one who avoids the path of the wicked and walks in the way of wisdom and life. Verses 1-3 describe the way of the righteous, first in negative terms (v. 1). “Counsel, way and seat (or ‘assembly,’ or ‘dwelling’) draw attention to the realms of thinking, behaving and belonging, in which a person’s fundamental choice of allegiance is made and carried through.

V2 is shown in the positive dimension. They do not live as the ungodly do; rather they constantly (“day and night”, v. 2) and joyfully study and observe Mosaic law; their well-being is like trees which bear fruit; they are prosperous. Finally the blessings alluded to in verse 1 are described through the imagery of a tree planted beside an abundant supply of water (v. 3).Water would almost certainly be a poetic representation of the Word of God, the “law of the Lord

This person is ‘like a tree planted by streams of water’. Like such a tree this person prospers from being in a place that constantly nourishes them, ensuring their growth and stability. As one planted, they are sustained and cared for by another, Yahweh, whose torah is their constant focus. The source of the prosperity of this person lies not within themselves but elsewhere, in the streams that feed them, and in the hand that planted them

In contrast, verses 4 and 5 describe the wicked. The ungodly are like “chaff” (v. 4): in manual threshing, the wind blows it away; it is discarded. You can water chaff day and night, and it will not grow. It cannot grow because it has no life So, says v. 5, their fate will be disaster: they will be excluded from the fellowship enjoyed by those who follow God’s ways, and will suffer – unlike the godly, over whom God keeps watch. They are destined for judgment. Verse 6 is a summary and conclusion, explaining the reason for the blessings of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked.

Epistle –  1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

The community at Thessalonika had adopted the faith with great opposition. The many competing religious movements among the pagans in the city, the extreme loyalty to Rome and the imperial cult from the city leaders, and fierce competition from the Jewish synagogue created an survival mentality among the local Christians

In Acts 17:1-9 “After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you." Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar” Paul was accused of being anti-Roman and had accused him of being a self-seeking peddler of this new message of the gospel

Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the circumstances of his mission among them. It is unclear whether Paul’s defense is a response to specific attacks or to the general skepticism about the motives of the hordes of itinerant religious and philosophical teachers characteristic of the ancient classical world, from whom Paul must distinguish himself.

In verses 1-12, the Apostle uses two instructive analogies to describe his ministry: (1) that of a faithful steward (vss. 1-6), and (2) as that of loving parents: first as a loving mother (vss. 7-8), and then as a concerned father (vss. 9-12).

The first proof their coming and ministry was not empty was the fact they had preached boldly in spite of serious persecution

He assures them of the motives of his work and appeals to the Thessalonians’ personal knowledge of the life and ministry of Paul and his associates. As a faithful steward – he categorically denied the false accusations in a seven-fold denial: they were guilty of neither error, nor impurity, nor trickery, nor deceit, nor flattery, nor greed, nor seeking self-aggrandizement. They were authorized by God (“approved”) to preach the gospel, in accord with God’s will rather than seeking popularity

The chief emphasis as stewards was on their faithfulness and authenticity

Paul referred to their visit with the Thessalonians as an “entrance, a means or place of entering.” because, as one who saw all of life through the perspective of grace and God’s work as the One who leads and directs us, he saw their time there like a door that God had opened giving them an opportunity to minister His Word. At the heart of all they were, believed in, and did, was the authoritative, true, and tried revelation of God

Paul and his team viewed the gospel as a treasure entrusted to them for safe keeping and for investment in the lives of others

Paul has appealed to the Thessalonian’s knowledge of him and his team, but they could not judge his inner motives for this lay beyond their ability, so he appeals to God. God is our witness – Here we have a wonderful illustration of how the knowledge of God should transform us if we really believe God’s truth This again reinforces the truth that Christianity is a relationship with God that is to change us from the inside out.

Here the emphasis is first on gentleness and willingness, and then on fatherly instruction backed up by godly example, to share everything they had.

His style of ministry was consistent with the gospel he preached. It was based not on coercion by biblical authority, but on biblical righteousness which as Paul understood it was intent to help people into a right relationship with God so that their lives would then become rightly oriented and their behavior rightly expressed, measured by love.  

Gospel –  Matthew 22:34-46

A." Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

Today’s reading contains the third of the controversy stories showing Jesus’ ability to confute his opponents.  Jesus passes their three test questions with flying colors (22:15-22, concerning taxes; 22:23-33, concerning resurrection; and 22:33-40, concerning the law), before posing a question of his own that stumps his adversaries, leaving them speechless (22:41-45). This gospel lection includes the last two duels: the question about the law posed by a “lawyer” (professional theologian) on behalf of the Pharisees (verses 34-40), and Jesus’ question concerning the identity of the Messiah (verses 41-46).

The law of Moses as set forth in the first five books of the Bible had, over the passage of centuries, been codified into 613 commandments. The question was often raised whether they were all of equal weight.

A lawyer in the tradition of Jesus’ culture was highly respected—though not necessarily well-liked. The parameters of a Jewish lawyer included both legal and religious issues and their years of intense studies set them apart—even from other Pharisees. These men were considered the “best and the brightest” of their time.

The lawyer asked a question of Jesus to test him but it was really a question to trick him, pressure him and cause him to make a mistake. That was the purpose of the Pharisees: to trick Jesus into making a verbal mistake whereby they would find legitimate reason to arrest and crucify him.

If the Pharisees assumed that all the commandments were equal, that no one was greater than any other; then the question becomes a "trick" question with no right answer. Thought at that time sinful to argue some are more important than others on the basis of some merely human standard of judgment

The question itself was a popular one. Even the biblical authors, tried to reduce the Law into guiding precepts. Psalm 15 had eleven. Isaiah 33:15 had six. Micah 6:8 had three. And Amos 5:4 had one. From a starting point, one could weigh various commands as serious or not. [22:36]

B. “He said to him, "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."”

Jesus answered the question with two commands: Deuteronomy 6:5 (the "Shema") and Leviticus 19:18. Deuteronomy 6:4-6 has defined the faith of the Jews for more than two millennium. Jesus isn’t proposing anything new, but using the authoritative writings for both Pharisees and Sadducees.

These verses stress the unity of God (monotheism) and the response of the believer: love for the Creator. Israel based its belief in one God upon freedom. Unlike their neighbors’ fertility gods who were guided by seasonal forces of nature, Yahweh was so radically free, even nature could not control him. That freedom made him all-powerful, alive, and ultimately unique among the other notions of the divine. He showed himself almighty through events of his people’s history. He freely chose to save a people. He freely chose to make a covenant with them.

The covenants God offered revealed not only his freedom. They showed his loving concern. To Abraham he offered land and descendants. Through his messenger, Moses, he offered a divine law and nationhood to the wandering Israelites. To King David, he offered a perpetual throne for his descendants. In every case, Abraham, the Israelites, or David could not offer anything in return. God bestowed the covenant as a free gift. And once, God made a covenant, he remained faithful to them in his own way.

What did it mean when we say we Love God ?

– duty of fidelity to Yahweh. So, the focus of love lay more upon duty, commitment and action than emotion sentimentality or romantic ideals. When God loved his people, he showed his power in events recorded in Scripture.

– When one loved God, he or she lived out the covenant delineated in the Torah.

– To love God means a dedication of the entire person to his will. Totally focused – Our continual expectation is that God’s mighty hand is in each high and low of life. Stubborn, unwavering Placing him first in the mind and the heart. Speaking respectfully about him. And keeping his day as one of prayer and true recreation, a day to keep his Law.

– In this humble state we find absolute and uninterruptible joy. Not a joy found by separating ourselves from others (like the Pharisees or adhering to a doctrine like the Sadducees). It is the joy found in seeing the living God in all things, all people, all day. This is holos—all—the position that God wants in our life which means complete or perfect

– Love of God lives every waking moment of the day. The Pharisees made a huge show of loving God. They went through unbelievable degrees of absurdity to publicly display their piety. Some were called the “Bruised Pharisees.” These men believed that to talk or look at a woman (even their own wife or sister) on the street was a sin. So, they walked about with cloth covering their faces to prevent such evil. As a result, they would show up at the synagogue with bumps and bruises everywhere to highlight their piety.

First-century Mediterranean persons were extremely group oriented. . In various ways these groups provided a person with a sense of self, with a conscience, with a sense of awareness supported by others

The term "love," for example, is best translated "group attachment, attachment to some person." Thus, in Matt. 6:24, "to love one’s master" is paraphrased as "to be devoted." There may or may not be affection, but it is the inward feeling of attachment along with the outward behavior bound up with attachment that love entails. Thus "to love God with all one’s heart, etc." means total attachment (22:37); "to love one’s neighbor as oneself" (19:19) is to be attached to the people in one’s neighborhood as to one’s own family — a very normal thing in the group-oriented Mediterranean until families begin feuding.

C. "And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. "

We are to focus on the needs of our neighbor as much as we focus on the needs of our selves. This teaching is similar to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12) “"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Or as many of us learned this Bible verse long ago, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” This summarizes the whole Old Testament.

-1 To love neighbor as ourselves means looking at and treating others with the respect God gave them and to take their needs seriously. This love begins at home with one’s parents. It then extends to others

– 2 Love of neighbor extends beyond our family and friends to strangers, especially to the poor, the sick, and the sinner. Love of neighbor knows no national borders or class distinctions or barriers of any kind, because God knows no such impediments

– 3 If love for God meant faithful adherence to his covenant, love for neighbor meant acts of charity.

Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously

D. "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

Jesus uniquely joined Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18 into one universal commandment. Neither love of God and love of neighbor can be separated from each other.

To “hang on” means to “depend on “ or to be tied together. He never suggests they trump or diminish the rest. There is not one great commandment or even two and then there are many subordinate commandments but an integral whole that encompasses the law and the prophets. The greatness of these two commandments lies not in their distinction from the other but in their capacity to articulate the root and foundation of the whole tradition.

Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18b. This was the first time these two had been put together – “the love of God and the love of neighbor.” The two laws were combined into one moral law. Neither law was to stand on its own; the two laws were to be inner connected. Jesus was seminal, was the first, was the spiritual genius who combined these commandments into one.

Matthew takes us back to beginning of Jesus teaching ministry – 5:17-20 “Do not suppose that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets; I have come not to destroy but to fulfill

The “law and the prophets” refers to the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament hangs or hinges on these two basic, interconnected commandments. What good is knowing the contents of the Old Testament without living out the Great Commandment

In what sense does the Law and the Prophets "hang" on these two commandments? All the commandments found in the scriptures, both small and great, hang from the command to love, of which, love of God is the foremost. So, the two great commandments serve as a summary of our duty toward God and neighbor. All other commands derive from these two commands. Jesus does not claim that this is an original combination, but it obviously silences the "expert in the law".

We can’t love God without loving our neighbor; we can’t love our neighbor unless we love God. In the end, all Biblical law derives from the command to love and serves to give practical expression to love. In that sense, the law is not just a practical manual for life, for without devotion and heart it is sterile and useless. So then, the law is summed up in love, a love that expresses ultimate care toward the other’s best interest

E  " While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

Jesus turns the tables and offers a challenging question – he probes their understanding of the Messiah to draw them out in the open.

The Pharisee’s response, “the son of David,” is scriptural and comes from Psalm 89:35-36.

The Pharisees knew there would be a Messiah but they thought he would be a man like David in leadership and also from David’s genealogical line. They never thought that the Messiah would also be the Son of God. This is what dumbfounded them. It is why they were speechless. They had all of their combined years of wisdom and tradition and yet Jesus—in one sentence—shows them that they still have no grasp of even the simplest scripture

If Pharisees confirm it will lead by implication to the conclusion that Jesus the Son of David is also God’s messiah.

If they deny it they will risk the wrath of the crowds whom they fear.They must publicly accept his authority as the Son of David and messiah or once again claim his power is from Beezebul.

The former would require them to give account of their continuing opposition to Jesus while the latter would be in an admission that the Beelzebul’s son has defeated them in public.

They answer we don’t know as chief priests had done earlier in the day (21:27)

F. 43" He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,  “‘The Lord said to my Lord:   “Sit at my right hand  until I put your enemies   under your feet.”’    If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. "

He then proceeds to a riddle based on Psalm 110:1 where David calls the messiah “Lord”.

The Holy Spirit /the Spirit of God is God and was present at the beginning of time and was the agent of creation. The same Spirit of God at Pentecost and the same Spirit of God that created the world was the same Spirit of God who inspired King David.

Those who are inspired by the Spirit, including David, are calling (present tense) him Lord. Jesus will surpass the prevailing opinions and expectations of the "Son of David" — namely, he will not be mighty warrior that David was, but the suffering servant who trusts that God will put all enemies under his feet.

Matthew understood it as the fulfillment of the Emmanuel prophecy of 1:23 that is “Son of God” designates Jesus as “God with us”. “Son of David may be used with respect to Jesus restricted role as the Messiah sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel – 15:24. “Son of God” bespeaks of his universal Lordship as the one the Gentiles will hope

1 .” The first “Lord” refers to God the Father; the second “Lord” refers to God the Son Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. The Book of Acts continues, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him (Jesus) both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Jesus is both the Lord of our lives and is also the Son of God

2 How can the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord. The answer has to do with authority, the issue that has come up over and over again.

The idea of "son" connotes more than biology and physical lineage, but with one’s character and whom one obeys or is subservient to.

Jesus is trying to emphasize that the Messiah is the son of God, not just of David–in other words, the Messiah, while prophesied about in Hebrew scripture and understood in Jewish culture, is a Messiah for the world, not just for the people. Jesus is not just the son of David as a descendant of David, but Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore a Messiah for all people. And therefore Jesus’ teachings about loving others and loving God are beyond the community present but are teachings to be lived out by all who follow Jesus. They are beyond the law and culture of one people, but for the whole world.