And the second is like it…
This past week we began a 6 session course on The Road to Maturity every second Wednesday night… last Wednesday we went through a kind of inventory of our physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual maturity. It was helpful to reflect on what might be lacking and where we might particularly ask Jesus to help us in our growth.
The teacher of that course recalls us to Jesus as the ultimate example for us of maturity in all of these ways. It is wonderful that we have met a person who is perfect in every way, someone to look up to, someone who shows us what it really means to be a fully mature human being. Jesus is our model.
Our readings speak to us this morning about a state of maturity in Christ.
In the Gospel [St Matthew 22:34-46], Jesus is asked, what is the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses? He responds with the two great commandments – to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbour as yourself. These are the heights to which we are moving. You could say, this is what happens in and through us when we are fully mature.
Jesus is not saying something new to the Pharisees, he is identifying what is there written in the Law of Moses – he is summing it up in two short commands: on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. This is what the whole teaching of the Old Testament is about – and he’s not come to change that.
But Jesus does add something by saying that the first commandment to love God is like the second commandment to love our neighbour. Why is the commandment to love God like the commandment to love our neighbour?
We are to love that which is worthy – God is of ultimate worth – He is worthy of our worship. The second commandment is like it, because humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. An early Church Father says it like this:
Whoever loves man is as the one who loves God; for man is God’s image, wherein God is loved, as a King is honoured in his statue. For this cause the [second] commandment is said to be like the first.[Pseudo-Chrysostom, in the Catena Aurea, Aquinas]
But it can be difficult to see God’s image in another person, especially as that image and likeness is deformed by sin – it would not be right to love that which is violent or greedy or selfish or lustful or arrogant in another. But Jesus has come to make it easier for us to discern what we should love in another person.
In the Gospel Jesus pushes the Pharisees who were testing him, to understand something about Himself. The Jewish people had the expectation of a Messiah, and there were certain Bible passages that were generally agreed referred to the Messiah. They had the expectation that he would be a descendant of David. The Messiah would be a man. They also generally agreed that Psalm 110 is about the Messiah, so Jesus presses them to explain the meaning…
“How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘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 is he his son?”St Matthew 22:43-45
The only explanation is that the Messiah is not only a human descendant but also is before David – the eternal Son of God. Jesus is both God and man. So in Christ, the two commandments to love God and to love our neighbour are perfectly alike, since in his human nature he is a perfect image and likeness of God. To love his humanity is to love God. And we are to love that which is Christlike in everyone we see – and there is no person on earth who does not continue to bear much of that image.
Our task as lovers of our neighbour (and of ourselves) is to help in the revealing of that image and likeness of God by giving worth, by loving and affirming that which is Christlike in them (and in us) while forbearing and forgiving the rest. We don’t affirm unrighteousness, but we do affirm, we do love, righteousness – in ourselves, in our friends, in our spouse, in our family members, in our fellow church members and even in our enemies outside the Church.
In the Epistle today [1 Corinthians 1:4-8], Paul provides an example of this. Paul speaks glowingly of the Church at Corinth at the very beginning of his letter:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ1 Corinthians 1:4-7
He can say all these things with complete honesty, before continuing with a harsh criticism of their life together. He goes on to criticize and call them to account because the church is full of dissensions, quarrelings, jealousy, strife, immorality…
Paul can love them for the image of Christ in them and the gifts of the Spirit in them at the same time as demanding much from them. And this is the same for each one of us and for our church – we are to have high expectations of one another precisely because we know Jesus Christ and Jesus is calling us and promises to give us the grace to attain in time His image and likeness. We are being restored, unrighteousness is being put off, righteousness is being put on. We should expect in our encounters with one another to be calling one another to account at the same time that we are truly loving and affirming one another.
The last part of today’s Epistle is this: He says that the Corinthian church members are all waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He speaks about the restoring of the image and likeness of God in us – the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ – that is in us, it’s not just about a mystical vision of him but that’s how he’s revealed in our midst! And it speaks about the grace to keep us in that state of innocency – who will sustain you to the end – and he does this by baptism and a continual washing and nourishing during our lives here by the Spirit and His Word written and the Sacrament. And finally, so that we will be ready when He returns in glory – guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. That day is the day of his second coming in glory.
Do you see the call here? True love, loves our neighbours as ourselves (and ourselves) by helping in the uncovering of the image and likeness of God. We have help in discerning what that image and likeness is by looking at the human life of Jesus Christ. And in that loving of who Jesus is, we are loving God, both in Him, and as we see Him revealed in ourselves and in our neighbours. It is to love that which is God and that which is good in humanity.
Each of us probably can bring to mind now some way in which our soul is not like God. Let us prepare ourselves through repentance and then coming forward with faith to Jesus to heal us, both through anointing and prayer and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood given for us. Remember that in our church this morning, like the church in Corinth,
[We] are not lacking in any spiritual gift,
as [we] wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will sustain [us] to the end,
that [we] may be guiltless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.