St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Maple Glen, Pennsylvania

Lessons and Reflections for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

 

Chapter 19 of Leviticus describes how Israel is to live as a people who reflect and embody God’s own holiness. In these verses this looks like giving honor to family, to the Sabbath day of the Lord, and shunning false worship. Holiness requires justice in all relationships without favoritism, no false witness and slander against neighbors, and in place of hate or vengeance to respect one’s fellow Israelites as you yourself would want to be honored.  So the circle of honor extends from God to self to family to fellow Israelites, but is not here extended to anyone outside the covenant.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is having the kind of discussion with other teachers and rabbis that was commonplace, as they reflect on their scriptures and seek to apply them to the circumstances of their time.  What is of supreme importance in the laws of God?  Jesus here affirms the core practice of loving God and neighbor, much as we just saw in Leviticus 19.  But he then presses on to raise the question of the Messiah.  His question challenges the conventional thinking of the time, which sought a descendant of David who would act as David did.  Jesus suggests that the Messiah, though descended of David, will in mysterious ways be superior and above David.

 

Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians, noting the accusations against him by his opponents from other towns.  In reply to this, he is able to refer to his conduct among them and asks them to decide for themselves what kind of person he proves to be.  He is not a “people-pleaser” (and thus has enemies), but seeks to “please God who tests our hearts.”

 

Comment:  What does it mean to be holy?  We know a good answer is simply to love.  Paul can actually say, “Look at my behavior” when the integrity of his life was under attack – the best possible reply anyone can make. May we strive to be able to say the same!   As Jesus presses his fellow teachers – and me! – to broaden their understanding of scripture to allow for new insights about what it means to be a loving person who is faithful to God’s leading Spirit.  Jesus goes beyond the “majority opinion” of his day when we see him extend the circle of love to the sinner, the stranger, and the enemy.  If I say that Jesus is my Lord, the Messiah, I see that I need with great care to challenge every “line in the sand” that I draw between me and others!