Weekly Seeds: Love

Sunday, October 29, 2023
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost | Year A

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Loving God, may love flourish within us and around us and through us. Amen.

Focus Reading

Sunday, October 29, 2023
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost | Year A

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Loving God, may love flourish within us and around us and through us. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Matthew 22:34-46
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

All readings for this Sunday:
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 • Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1 • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 • Matthew 22:34-46

Focus Questions:
What is love?
How do you love yourself?
Who is your neighbor?
How do you love your neighbor?
How do you love God?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Imagine being threatened by love.

Jesus continues his encounter with the religious leaders. In this dialogue, they have asked questions in order to trap him, and instead they have been left confounded and even more threatened by his ministry and message. Using rhetorical acumen, knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, and theological truths, Jesus responds to their inquiries in unexpected and astonishing ways. He has asked them questions in return. He has responded by sharing parables. Now, having been stumped by him time after time, the religious leaders ask him to identify a single commandment as the greatest.

Jesus does not give them the answer in the form they want, but he certainly responds. He names a commandment they know and would probably have agreed with if pressed. But, Jesus does not stop there. He says there is another like it. In other words, he cannot and will not choose between them. In fact, he infers that to choose to love God is also to choose to love your neighbor as yourself. The commandment is to love. Everyone is included. That is the threat.

The Pharisees, upon hearing how he had “silenced the Sadducees” (v. 34), are back at him. They send in a lawyer who asks Jesus to select one of the commandments in the law and declare it the “most important.” Latter rabbinic tradition counted 613 laws, all of which were to be respected and obeyed equally, though they recognized that some were “weightier than others.”34 Jesus’ answer refuses to choose only one law and instead goes to the heart and center of the law as such.“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the greatest and first commandment.And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (vv. 37–40). Jesus has spoken what is most central to their shared faith tradition. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus is not innovating here; these are fundamentals he would have learned at his mother’s knee. What he says is something the Pharisees should already know; they are put to shame.
Anna Case-Winters

Their shame comes because Jesus has exposed the weakness in their praxis and the flaw in their motivations. These leaders are not driven, shaped, or compelled by love. Power without love leads to pure privilege and corruption. Power with love yields compassionate service and ministry. The contrast between the message of Jesus and these leaders has been defined with clarity. They lack love of neighbor, and Jesus assures them that means they do not love the Holy One either.

Always the question of how we love God has to be addressed. This question includes issues of worship, emotion, mind, mystical communion, and obedience. Yet however we answer the question, it cannot be separated from love for neighbor and for oneself.
Warren Carter

The religious leaders, while attempting to discredit Jesus, find themselves exposed as hypocritical, disingenuous, fraudulent, and faithless. He has bested them by changing the rules of the game. They may think it was his rhetorical skill that outwits their astute questioning. They may think his knowledge of the Law and the Prophets unparalleled. They may just consider him to be more clever than their conniving ways. However, the strength of Jesus is that he refuses to engage with them on their terms and instead continues to embrace the law of love. And, while their actions preview their machinations that will contribute to his passion, his response previews how love always triumphs over the most weaponized adversary and leads the way to the victory of the empty tomb. This is what loving your neighbor looks like even when they make themselves into your enemy.

Jesus does not try to get them to like him or agree with them. He knows their common ground, but rather than compromise to reach consensus, he exploits it to expose and correct their wrong beliefs. He does not denigrate them, and he does speak the truth to them. He does no harm to them, and he holds them accountable for their actions and attitudes as well as the impact of their influence.

Love is not easy nor is it always pleasing. To love can cause struggle and internal wrestling. Love exposes us to potential heartbreak and pain. Love can cost us our comfort.

As an important side note, in Matthew (as well as in the Gospel of Mark) Jesus substitutes “mind” for the word “might” found in the original verse in Deuteronomy 6:5. In other words, Jesus himself seems to stress the role of the mind in loving God. We love God with our whole self, including our brain.
Matt Woodley

Love is often portrayed as an emotional response over which we have no control. The expression “falling in love” literally suggests that love is something that happens to us as a disruption and interruption on our journey. Godly love is a choice and a commitment. Our mind participates in equitable measure with our heart in a life of love. Our thoughts contribute to love along with our emotional responses.

The religious leaders have put Jesus to the test, and he did so well they could no longer bear his responses. He had all the answers, and all the answers were love. Jesus was correct, but they did not like his answers because it showed that they had so much more work to do.

Jesus has stood the test of their questions and they have failed the test of his question. The broad sweep of confrontations in these four chapters has included chief priests, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees in varying combinations. As varied as these groups are, they are almost interchangeable in their opposition and hostility. Even so, they have been unable to defeat the authoritative teacher or draw out of him answers that will discredit and condemn him. They wanted to silence him, but it is they who are silenced. They are “amazed” and “leave” (v. 22) or “astounded” and “fall silent” (vv. 33–34). They “do not dare to ask him any more questions” (v. 46). In the next chapters, Jesus begins to teach the crowds and the disciples about the coming judgment in which these opponents will figure rather prominently.
Anna Case-Winters

God’s love is a threat. They not only reject the person of Jesus; these leaders reject God’s love embodied in Jesus. The barometer of life is love. The real test of anything related to God is love. Adherence to any aspect of the Law without the lens of love is missing the primary element necessary for life, reconciliation, and healing. The message of the prophets is rooted in love. God’s justice is another expression of God’s love. The hope for the world rests on the power of love.

God’s Love will be put on trial and found guilty. Love will not defend itself. Love will simply continue to love even unto death. Yet, Love prevails to live again.


Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Then too, I used to notice how Mama used to snatch Papa. That is, he would start to put up an argument that would have been terrific on the store porch, but Mama would pitch in with a single word or a sentence and mess it all up. You could tell he was mad as fire with no words to blow it out with. He would sit over in the corner and cut his eyes at her real hard. He was used to being a hero on the store porch and in church affairs, and I can see how he must have felt to be always outdone around home. I know now that that is a gripping thing to a man—not to be able to whip his woman mentally. Some women know how to give their man that conquesting feeling. My mother took her over-the-creek man and bare-knuckled him from brogans to broadcloth, and I am certain that he was proud of the change, in public. But in the house, he might have always felt over-the-creek, and because that was not the statue he had made for himself to look at, he resented it. But then, you cannot blame my mother too much if she did not see him as his entranced congregations did. The one who makes the idols never worships them, however tenderly he might have molded the clay. You cannot have knowledge and worship at the same time. Mystery is the essence of divinity. Gods must keep their distances from men.
–Zora Neale Hurston, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing… And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.