Summary: We often have a tendency to mask our failure to love others by referring to it as a “complex issue”. It’s not true. Jesus shows us how utterly simple the issue actually is.
“It’s A LONG STORY; A COMPLEX ISSUE; A GRAY AREA”. You have heard statements like this haven’t you? Perhaps you used them yourself. Phrases like this are often used as a way to bring an end to a discussion. More often then not, those who say them are trying to bring an end to a discussion of why they are doing what they are doing or how they found themselves in a particularly unpleasant situation. They have no good explanation and they’d rather not try to explain, thank you very much.
I’ve even had one of my kids try this on me. “Why did you hit your brother?” “It’s a LONG STORY Dad” “Well son, I like a good story, and I’ve got all the time in world, so please tell it to me”
As it turns out, these catch-phrases are quite often used by people as a smoke screen to hide their guilt. The STORY is really not that long, they simply know they are the villain in their story and they’d rather you didn’t know that. And the ISSUE is not really all that complex, but they are perplexed as to how they are going to live with themselves if they admit what they have done. And the AREA is not really all that gray, its actually black and white and they are trying to kill the lights so that their obvious moral failure will not be exposed for what it is.
I guess you could say that what we have done here is open a window into the human psyche. All of us, without exceptions have broken God’s immuteable law. We do it every single day in our thoughts and words and deeds. And like Adam and Eve before us, we have a tendency to try and cover our backsides. We feel exposed. We feel the need to rationalize our less than stellar behavior. So we say: “It’s A LONG STORY; A COMPLEX ISSUE; A GRAY AREA”.
In Today’s Gospel lesson we are going to find help to overcome this tendency of ours. Instead of turning away from reality and hiding from the truth about ourselves, we are actually going to admit the truth. But we will do this without fear because our Savior Jesus, who loves us in spite of the fact that we sin will be leading the way.
One of the Pharisees approached Jesus with a question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36) Now first of all, you’ve got to wonder why someone would even ask such a question. Are there some commandments that should be obeyed more than others? Are we not supposed to obey them all? Was this guy performing a spiritual triage of sorts? Was he going to focus all of his energies on keeping the most important commandment, only to blow-off all the others?
Yeah, maybe. People certainly do that in our day. They say to themselves: “I do commit adultery, but at least I have no other gods.” Or perhaps, “Yeah, I don’t remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy because I’m so involved in so many other interesting, important, and crucial things, but at least I believe in one true God.”
This fellow who approached Jesus probably had some of this going on. But he had a bunch of other stuff going on too. The pharisees, by the time of Christ, had expanded and expounded on the law to such an extent that they had about 613 commandments. Yippee! From Ten commandments to 613! For them, apparently, keeping the commandments had become A COMPLEX ISSUE; living their lives for God became A LONG STORY ; and they were apparently prone to be confused by all the GRAY AREAS.
They come to Jesus and ask “Which is the greatest commandment in the law.” (Matt. 22:36) And Jesus’ answer was a wonderfully clarifying moment. What he said was so utterly perfect for the situation and perfect for our situation as well. Without skipping a beat, without even addressing the problems that might come with ranking commandments, he simply said “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39)
Do you see the brilliance of this? Instead of giving them a loophole that allowed them to obey one commandment but ignore another, he gave them a commandment that contains all the commandments of God in two simple sentences: “Love the Lord” and “Love your Neighbor”. You see how it works? If you love the Lord, you will not have any other gods, you will remember the sabbath day, you will not misuse his name. If you love your neighbor, you won’t murder him, steal from him, take his wife, gossip against him. With his answer, he did not gratify their desire to prove themselves to be scholars; he didn’t even give them any wiggle room so that they might keep one commandment, while ignoring another. He didn’t let them off the hook, but rather he put them on the hook. He said, “all of the Law and prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 23:40)