In our Gospel reading today we read about an encounter between Jesus and an expert in Jewish law, who asks Jesus 'Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' To which Jesus answers: 'Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves.'
Lets unpack what is actually been said here.
LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD
Christianity is first and foremost about relationships. One the one hand it is a relationship between God and ourselves, and on the other hand, it is about the relationship we have with one another.
The most important relationship is the one we have with God. We are to love him with our whole being, with our heart, soul, strength and our mind. And like any relationship, we have to work at our relationship with God.
But this relationship is not a one sided one, God loved us first. Paul in Ephesians 1:4 writes, "he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." In other words, even before this world was created, God has known us and has loved us. God's love for us Unconditional, Impartial, Everlasting, Infinite, Perfect!
We nurture our relationship with God by setting aside time to pray, and read our Bibles, and gathering together as his family, the church to worship him. Because it is through our praise and worship that we can begin to understand the love that God has for us, and it builds up our love for him.
Being part of the church reminds us that we cannot be a Christian in isolation. As well as our relationship with God, to be a Christian means to have a relationship with others. This is why we have the second great command.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
When the Jewish leader questions Jesus about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus first tells him to love God, and secondly to love his neighbour. There is an important order being stressed in this passage. God must always come first, others second, and ourselves last.
But a question is raised, 'who is my neighbour?' Jesus then goes to talk about the Good Samaritan. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho winds its way through some very rough desert terrain. It was a notorious area for thieves and robbers, even up to the 1930s it had a reputation for being a very unsafe route! This lone traveller was attacked, and left for dead. In the story we read that two men walk past. The first one is a Priest, who was probably on his way to the Temple in Jerusalem. The reason he did not stop to help the man was because he did not want to defile himself by touching a corpse. So for the priest, being 'ritually clean' was more important than showing compassion and mercy, he was more concerned about obeying rules and regulations than helping someone in need.
The next person to walk by was Levite, again he did not stop. Like the Priest he may have been afraid of making himself ritually unclean, but he may have also feared being attacked by robbers – who could have still been in the area.
The third person to walk past was a Samaritan. But unlike the other two men, this man stopped, took pity upon the man lying in the road, bandaged his wounds, and took him to a place where he would be cared for, giving the inn keeper two silver coins, enough for one month, and says, 'when I come back, I will give you more money, whatever it costs to look after this man.' His care and concern for the injured man continued didn't stop when he left him at the inn.
What makes this story so extraordinary is that Jesus chose a Samaritan – who the Jew's despised, to be the hero in the story. The message is clear, to love our neighbours as ourselves is a radical and demanding call. It calls for us to lay aside our differences, our prejudices, our fears, our misconceptions. In the story the Priest and Levite loved themselves more than their neighbour, because they put their interests first. It took a Samaritan, someone who the Jews despised, to show what it means to be a true neighbour.
There is a real challenge here for us today. To learn to love one another. To learn to put aside our differences. To learn to let go of attitudes that are harmful. To learn to put God first, others second and ourselves last.
I hope that as a church, St Martin's is known for its love for others, and its care for others. Because if we place love of God at the centre of everything we do, and then love of others we will draw people to God. When I was in NZ for a year, the church that I was drawn to was the one that showed by its life and its ministry the love it had for people. It was also a church willing to welcome people into its midst, who many other people would shun away from. I learnt a lot during my time in that church. If we are a people who are full of love, people will be drawn to this church, and lives will be changed.
My hope and prayer for us today, is that we will all grow to know what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, body and mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.