Summary: This is a sermon about listening for God.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.
“Hear him, or test him?”
It is really, really easy for me to hate the Pharisees. They are constantly picking on Jesus, constantly standing in opposition to him, constantly arguing with him, and constantly testing him and trying to trap him. It gets to the point where I get to think… “is there anything even remotely redeemable in any of them?” They are like the villains in the movies, where the author has them push a little old lady down just so we really, really hate them. And here again, right before today’s text, they are up to no good. They have cornered Jesus and are putting him to the test with questions designed to trap him… you know… the kind of question where any answer you give is a bad answer. And Jesus outsmarted them and directed it all rightly back to scripture and back to God. Oooooooo those sneaky pharisee’s… BOOOOOO!
And then something odd happens. The text takes us in a very interesting direction. A Pharisee steps forward, and seeing that Jesus had answered well… he asks a sincere question of Jesus. “Which commandment is first of all.”
And Jesus again, answers wisely quoting scripture in verse 29. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” … and to that he adds, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then here, the really amazing thing happens. We have a Pharisee who gets it. Not only does he understand what Jesus is saying… he takes it another step. You see… one thing you have to understand about the Pharisees is that they were very strict about following the rules… the letter of the law. They made sure that they did everything just so. So much so… that they often missed the whole point of what God was really calling them to do.
And Jesus, in a way of rebuking them… pointed them to the heart of their calling. Love God, and love neighbor. It’s as simple as that. And the scribe echoed back to him… in verse 32. “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And Jesus replied back to him in verse 34… “seeing that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
What made this Pharisee so different? Why, amidst so many examples of Pharisees on the wrong side of it all, do we have this one shining example of a Pharisee gone right?
Thinking about this, I think there is enough evidence in today’s scripture for us to understand what makes this Pharisee stand apart.
First of all… he came with a heart that was seeking rather than a heart that was testing. Instead of coming into the conversation with his mind already made up, already thinking that his way was the only way… he came seeking to know… to understand… perhaps even to learn.
I think that we too… far too often fail to listen and rather come to the conversation with our minds already made up. Here, in today’s lesson… we have one of the “bad guys” setting the example for us… may we be willing to listen so that we may hear. May we come with hearts seeking rather than with hearts that are testing.