FIRST READING: Exodus (34:1-12)
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *
“Go back, O child of earth.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *
we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.
8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *
and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The span of our life is seventy years,
perhaps in strength even eighty; *
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *
who rightly fears your indignation?
12 So teach us to number our days *
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.
14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16 Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.
17 May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.
SECOND READING: 1 Thessalonians (2:1-8)
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22:34-46)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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.’ 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.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by 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 David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
For last Sunday’s first reading, we heard an excerpt from Exodus, chapter 34, in which God allowed Moses to see God’s own glory and offered to Moses and Israel a divine self-description as the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Over the past seven days, we have been on a biblical fast-forward. We have skipped through the last six and one-half chapters of Exodus, bypassed Leviticus and Numbers all together, and have almost missed all of Deuteronomy in the process. We managed to put on the brakes just in time to catch the final 12 verses of the book: those describing the last days and the death of Moses and offering a very brief assessment of his remarkable role in God’s deliverance of Israel.
In our reading, the author of Deuteronomy remarks on Moses’ strength and vitality to the end, recalls the way that Moses and God talked face-to-face, and reminds listeners of the long series of wonders that Moses performed before Pharaoh and all of Israel.
But there is at least one additional aspect of Moses’ character that deserves our attention: Moses’ faithfulness to the Israelites, as well as to God. Moses consistently showed an unwavering commitment to the people, no matter what they had done and no matter what personal sacrifice that commitment might entail. There is another word for such faithfulness, for such total dedication, for such unwavering commitment. That word is love. Moses deeply loved the people of Israel, no matter what happened, no matter what that love cost him. He was willing even to stand up to God and to face the potential consequences of that bold action for their sake. Now that is love.
In this morning’s gospel reading, we come to the end of a series of challenges posed by some of the Jewish leadership to Jesus. And in this passage, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandments of the Law are great. Jesus, quoting the books of Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18), responds with the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. The way he does so seems to indicate that he sees them as inseparably intertwined: two parts of a single great commandment of love.
“Love” is a word that we hear a lot, especially, it seems, in popular music and other forms of pop culture. But love, genuine love — the love that Moses had for the Israelites, the love that God has for the world, and the love to which we are called — has a very different meaning from that implied in most popular settings. It has nothing to do with a nice, pleasant, positive feeling, nor with any sort of temporary and conditional attraction. Instead, “love” as shown and held up to us by the scriptures has to do with total dedication, with unwavering commitment, with a lived intent of caring for the needs of the other. It is the kind of love that Moses had for the Israelites and that God has for us.
Some people seem inclined to view that kind of love as totally unrealistic: a romantic fantasy that just does not work in real life. And, we have to admit, for some people, that has been their experience of love: it is the only kind they have ever known.
But in fact, love of that kind is not some idealistic abstraction: an unachievable ideal. In fact, we can find examples of that kind of love all around us if we are willing to look. We see that genuine love in those who care patiently for a spouse or life-companion who is seriously ill physically, or – sometimes even more difficult – for one who is suffering from some advanced form of dementia. We see it in those who struggle to care for a child, young or adult, who has special needs and who will never be capable of caring for himself or herself. We see it in the love of country shown, not by talk-show hosts or politicians who like to boast of their supposed patriotism, but by those who actually sacrifice and work day after day for the good of their fellow citizens, both those living now and those in generations to come. We see it in those who dedicate their working lives and volunteer their time to serve those in our society who are in need and who require our help. We see it in those who care patiently for especially difficult and challenging people, whether the elderly in some of our nursing homes or the children and young adults in some of our schools. We see it in countless ways that people serve the needs of others, putting love into action, whether those whom they serve appear to be especially lovable or not.
These are all examples of genuine love: of a love that is more than just a nice word or a set of good feelings. They are examples of true dedication and unwavering commitment. They are examples of the kind of love that God has for us, and of the kind of love that the scriptures call us to extend toward God and toward our fellow human beings.
Maybe the key to understanding and living Jesus’ teaching about love in today’s gospel reading is starting with the right question. Many Christians, just like the Pharisees who were questioning Jesus in the gospel reading, begin by asking: “What do I need to do in order to find salvation and happiness for me?” They begin with themselves and with how to get what they want for themselves. And that “what they want for themselves” includes, not just material things, but even higher values, such as eternal life, life in the reign of God.
But even in their search for the kingdom, they forget what the kingdom is all about. They begin, just like they begin everything else, with themselves instead of with others. Yet the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed was not inwardly directed. It was consistently directed to caring for the good of others, to focusing on the good of all.
Jesus begins, not with himself, but with God and neighbor, calling on his hearers to extend that practical, lived love, that unfailing commitment to others instead of worrying so much about themselves. Jesus turns the question around. “In the reign of God,” he says, “In the reign of God, the question is not ‘How do I obtain eternal life, the life of that reign, for myself?” but rather “How do I live in such a way that God may be glorified and that the other people of the world might hear the Good News and come to live in the reign of God?”
It is by living with that focus that we come to experience what the reign of God is like and to proclaim it by our lives. It is by living with that focus that we come to understand and to live God’s greatest, two-fold commandment: the commandment of love.