Archives for October 2014

Bible Study: Christ the King (A)

November 23, 2014

Donna StanfordBishop Kemper School for Ministry

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

In this lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, Ezekiel delivers the dual message of God’s judgment and salvation. God warns that he will condemn the irresponsible “fat and strong” shepherd-kings of Israel (v. 16). Because the shepherd-kings neglected their duties, the weak sheep-people of Israel were scattered into exile in Babylon (vv. 12-13). God will also judge the sheep-people themselves, promising to feed with justice the corrupt “fat sheep” people who have mistreated their fellow “lean sheep” people (vv. 20-22).

The counterpoint to God’s judgment of Israel is God’s message of salvation. God promises that He will engage in a search-and-rescue mission. As the good shepherd of Israel, God will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (v. 16). He will gather the people from exile, feed them with good pasture and make them lie down in good grazing land (vv. 13-14). God will re-establish his flock in Israel, and He will be their God (v. 24).

Why should the exiles believe Ezekiel’s message of promise?

As in Psalm 23, this passage from Ezekiel uses the imagery of God as shepherd and the people as his flock. What has been your experience of God’s deliverance when you felt distressed, sorrowful or forsaken?

Psalm 100:1-4

In Psalm 100, the psalmist marries the image of God as king (“serve the Lord,” “come before his presence”) with the image of God as shepherd (“we are … the sheep of his pasture”) (vv. 1, 2). God is recognized as sovereign over creation (“all you lands”) and over Israel (“he himself has made us,” “we are his people”) (vv. 1, 2).

What response does God as shepherd-king deserve? Because he has created us, we belong to him (v. 2). We are to offer our whole selves to God in service. Our proper response to God’s goodness, mercy and faithfulness is worship – joyful praise and thanksgiving (v. 3). We are to “enter his gates,” “go into his courts,” and “call upon his Name” (v. 3). We are to enjoy His presence in our lives.

How do you open yourself to God’s presence?

During worship, do you glorify and enjoy God? If not, why not?

Ephesians 1:15-23

This pericope, or passage, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians may be divided into three sections.

Verses 15 and 16 are a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the report Paul received about the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and about their putting love into practice.

Verses 17 through 19 are Paul’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. Paul names God as “the Father of Glory,” which refers to God’s power. Paul asks God to give the Ephesians wisdom and insight into God’s saving act through Jesus Christ. Paul affirms that God’s power is working in those who believe.

In verses 20 through 23, Paul declares that Christ’s resurrection and glorification is evidence of God’s power at work in Christ. The exalted Christ is depicted in royal terms. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (v. 21). The name of Christ is “above every name that is named” (v. 21). The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated – God has put all things under Christ’s authority. The pericope draws to an ecclesial conclusion. Not only was God’s power at work in Christ’s resurrection and glorification, but God’s power is still at work in Christ through his body, the church (vv. 22-23).

Is your faith cerebral assent to a creed or a whole-hearted trust in God that motivates how you live your life?

Have you observed God’s power at work in Christ through the church? Give specific examples.

Matthew 25:31-46

This passage is the end of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. The apocalyptic images reflect Christ’s kingship and his roles as judge and shepherd.

Jesus, referring to himself as the Son of Man, relates that when he comes in glory with his angels, he will be enthroned as king (v. 31). All human beings will be gathered before him (v. 32). Exercising his royal authority, Christ the King will separate the people, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (v. 32). Both the “sheep” and the “goats” will be surprised by the King’s judgment (vv. 37, 44). Neither group sees themselves as the King sees them.

Christ the King invites the “sheep” or the “righteous” to inherit the Kingdom of God that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v. 34). The righteous will enjoy eternal life (v. 46). He calls them, “blessed by my Father” (v. 34). On the other hand, the “goats” or the “accursed” will be condemned to eternal punishment (vv. 32-33, 46).

What distinguishes the blessed from the accursed? As described in the Beatitudes, the blessed act with unselfish, loving kindness toward needy people. The righteous welcome strangers, give clothing to the needy, visit the sick and imprisoned without knowing that they are ministering to Christ (vv. 35-36), while the accursed selfishly ignore those in need (vv. 42-43).

Do the apocalyptic images of Christ as King and judge disturb you? If so, why?

Does this parable contradict the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works?

Bible Study: 23 Pentecost, Proper 28 (A)

November 16, 2014

James MillerGeneral Theological Seminary

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Judges 4:1-7Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Judges 4:1-7

In our Old Testament reading, we find that the Israelites are being punished by the Lord for the evils that they have committed. In fact, they have been “sold” to King Jabin of Canaan. This is about to change. Deborah, who is a prophetess and the only woman in scripture to be a judge, summons Barak and tells her vision: The Lord will bring the army of the Canaanites under Sisera to him, a battle will ensue, but the Lord will make Barak victorious.

There are three important issues here.

First, once again, Israel is being punished for evil: worshipping false Gods.

Second, while there are some notable depictions of prohetesses in scripture (Miriam, sister of Moses in Exodus 15:20; and Huldah, who authenticated the rediscovery of Torah in 2 Kings 22: 14-20, Joel 2:28 and Acts 21: 8-9), Deborah is unique in that she is the only female judge noted in scripture.

Third, Sisera had a commanding military advantage over the Israelites with his 900 chariots of iron. The use of iron was a technique not available to the Israelites at that time. Yet, the prophecy is that Barak will be victorious. This is because it is not physical strength of armies or weapons that will carry the day, but the power of the Lord.

Trusting in the Lord for deliverance is an important theme of scripture. See David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17; Gideon in Judges 6-8, Psalm 37:39 and Psalm 46. Note also God’s reaction to David, who took a census in order to determine Israel’s strength.

Is all of our faith being placed in Jesus, or are we guilty of portioning out to some false gods?

Can we look past gender when we receive God’s Word?

Can we think of ways to increase our faith in Jesus instead of spending time stockpiling physical resources?

Psalm 123

The psalmist is not angry, but is calling for help, for relief. Scorn and contempt has been laid upon the people, and they are either incapable or unwilling to fight against it alone. They turn to the Lord with confidence that they will receive mercy. An important dimension of mercy, רַחֵ֖ם(Isaiah 49:15), is that it can be understood as the tender love a mother has for her children. The psalmist’s wish is for the Lord to show motherly care for the people.

If you feel that there is no place to turn, no one to help, will you turn to the Lord for mercy? In fact, will you turn to the Lord first?

Consider the innocent of the world, those suffering oppression, hunger, disease, those living in war-torn regions, those who have been kidnapped. Can you pray to the Lord for mercy for them?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Paul is exhorting the church to be vigilant. In using “day of the Lord,” he is invoking code from Old Testament that was well-understood as “judgment day.” He describes it as sudden destruction (v. 3). He calls on the church to be ready – awake and sober (v. 6) – and to use the “weapons” that they have been given: faith, love and hope (v. 8). Most importantly, though, Paul wants them to know that those with faith in Jesus will not receive wrath, but salvation. Finally, note that Paul encourages community. We are not to look to our own futures to the exclusion of others. Part of our calling is to “encourage one another and build each other up” (v. 11).

Do you think that the scenario of destruction that Paul paints is real or symbolic? Either way, are you prepared?

What do you think of the armor Paul describes: breastplate of faith and love; helmet of the hope of salvation? Can you relate this to the passage above from Judges?

How can we build each other up?

Matthew 25:14-30

There are two issues at play in this parable. One has to do with the use of one’s gifts, assets, or as they are called here, “talents.” The other has to do with relationships.

Our reading is a parable (“For it is as if …”), but it is interesting to consider the literal as well as the figurative meaning of “talent.” One source notes that one talent was worth the equivalent of more than 15 years’ wages for a laborer. Another suggests that one talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii (with 1 denarius = 1 day’s pay). This would work out to more than 26 years’ wages. In any case, it is clear that a talent was extremely valuable. Just consider the one who received five talents was given over a lifetime of earnings.

We read that the owner entrusted these talents with his slaves. There is a settling of accounts upon his return. Two of the slaves traded with their talents and produced a profit. This trading was not reckless gambling; they carefully considered how to increase the value of what had been entrusted to them. They had faith that they were serving their master’s best interests. This looks like a good relationship.

Not so with the third slave. Out of fear, he did not use the talent with which he was entrusted. He was not interested in the betterment of his master, or even his own betterment. He had disdain for his master and accused him of a pattern of theft and injustice.

Think of the talents/gifts with which God has entrusted you. They could be health, physical or mental acumen, friends, family, prayer, the sacraments. Are you using/investing them to your fullest ability? Can you see them as not being yours, but being entrusted to you by God?

Do you view your relationship with God as one of trust and gratitude for the blessings you enjoy, leading you to use them for God’s glory, or do you so fear God that you feel mistrustful and perhaps accuse god of being the source of injustice?

Bible Study: 22 Pentecost, Proper 27 (A)

November 9, 2014

Hunter Ruffin, Seminary of the Southwest

“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Memory is a powerful vehicle for us as intellectual creatures. Memory connects the past to the present state of things and helps us recall the stories told by our ancestors. Memory works its magic in the stories that we tell to each other as we recollect the years past, which helps us make sense of the present condition. As L. Daniel Hawk points out in the Berit Olam series’ “Joshua” (Liturgical Press, 2000), in Chapter 24, Joshua begins by connecting the leaders of Israel to the past – both near and far – as a way to exhort Israel to choose life through their worship of the Lord.

In this episode, Joshua calls Israel to make a decision for itself – whom will Israel serve? Will the people choose to serve foreign gods, or will Israel choose to serve the Lord? When the people respond that they will serve the Lord, their response also recounts the history of the people of Israel and the ways that the Lord helped the people of Israel. The result is a covenant that Joshua makes with the people and creates new statutes and ordinances for them. Memory helped the people remember that they are to serve the Lord. Hawk writes that the memory of the past reveals that the covenant is a freely chosen commitment to the Lord of the people’s hearts and lives.

What memories do you keep close to your heart? How do those memories remind you of the love that God showers on God’s people?

In what ways can you recommit your heart and life to God, today?

Psalm 78:1-7

Just as Joshua used memory to call to the people of Israel to choose the Lord, the psalmist also uses memory to remind the present congregation of the “praiseworthy deeds” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 694-695) of the Lord. The psalmist wants the people to remember the “mysteries of ancient times” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 694-695) and, as Konrad Schaefer observes in the Berit Olam series on “Psalms” (Liturgical Press, 2001), to remember the ways in which the Lord protected Israel. Memory and remembering continues to instruct the present congregation in the ways of the Lord.

Schaefer also notes that the psalmist’s use of memory is an instruction about faithfulness, fidelity to God. The poet is exhorting the present congregation to remember themselves as God’s people and to commit themselves to being faithful to the Lord by not forgetting the deeds of God. The work of memory and remembering is the way the people avoid past mistakes while forgetting dooms the people to repeat past mistakes.

“Re-membering,” putting the people back together as a whole, stimulates the people’s wonder in God’s deeds within creation and connects them to having a deeper faith and faithfulness in God.

Search through your own memories. Where can you identify that God was at work in your life?

What memories serve as a call to forgiveness for yourself? What memories ask you to forgive another?

How does the act of remembering your own life inform your faith in God?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the power of memory is once again at work; however, the memories of loved ones by the community at Thessalonica now serve to create deep, worrisome questions for the community. As Charles Cousar points out in his commentary “Eschatological Encouragement” (Smyth & Helwys, 2001), though there is no evidence of a letter from the community to Paul, it appears that Paul is attempting to respond to a concern held by the community relating to the fate of those that have died before Christ’s return.

In fashion similar to Joshua and the psalmist, Paul uses memory to call the community into hopefulness through Christ. Through the memory of Christ’s resurrection, Paul speaks words of hope to the people in Thessalonica in a time of grief. Unlike others who have no hope in death, the community is reminded of the hope that is discovered in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Cousar explains that the resurrection of Christ opens a new door to a new future that grants hope to those that live and those that have died.

The death of loved ones prior to Christ’s return does not mean that they will be left or that they will be the last to experience the resurrected Christ. In fact, Paul says the exact opposite: The dead will be the first to bask in the warmth of Christ’s love in the Resurrection. Cousar notes that the cry of command, the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet are all military images that announce the coming of the one that will destroy all powers and principalities, including the power of death.

How do you encounter the risen Christ in your daily living? In what ways is Christ calling you toward the hopefulness of the Resurrection?

How does the return of Christ speak to you? How does remembering the hope experienced in Christ’s resurrection call you into faithfulness to God through Christ?

Matthew 25:1-13

The parable of the 10 maidens in the Gospel According to Matthew is definitely one of the more difficult parables for modern listeners. The parable features a group of 10 women who take lamps to the wedding feast, but only five of the women are wise enough to take extra oil with them in the event that the bridegroom is delayed. The parable features two different realities: the hope of the coming of the bridegroom and the dismissal of those who followed false teachings.

The split in the group of women is a focus on the positive and negative behavior of different members of the community. In his commentary “The Gospel of Matthew” (Liturgical Press, 2001), Daniel Harrington writes that the women who exemplify the positive behavior are granted entry to the wedding feast while the women who exemplify negative behavior are kept out. The parable is one more analysis of the relations between Matthew’s community and the Jewish community surrounding it. The conflict is focused on the acceptance of the apocalyptic nature of Christ’s return by Matthew’s community and the rejection of that by the surrounding Jewish community.

The role the women played was obviously important to Matthew’s community. In her essay “Got Into the Party After All” from “A Feminist Companion to Matthew” (Sheffield Academic Press 2001), Marie-Eloise Rosenblatt writes that the women behave as leaders when they go out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom; as a result, it is important to understand that the parable is not against women’s leadership in the church. The parable seeks to teach all of Matthew’s community about the importance of adhering to true teachings of the church.

What are the sources of division in your own context? Is it appropriate for the church to respond to difference in the way it does at the end of today’s parable?

What might be other ways of addressing division within the church? How might that include a commitment to reconciliation?

In what ways are you divided with family, friends or loved ones? How might Matthew’s idea of being watchful call you toward forgiveness and reconciliation in your own life?

Bible Study: All Saints’ Day (A)

November 2, 2014

Steven M. Balke, Jr.Virginia Theological Seminary

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Revelation 7:9-17

First-century Christians understood the Revelation to John is not predicting future events exactly as they are going to unfold. Rather, it revealed some truth to strengthen them during the trials they faced. The fledgling church was composed of little pockets of Christian communities. They were surrounded by harsh opposition from the larger communities around them that thought they were crazy and misguided. To make matters worse, the newborn churches, faithful as they were, fought amongst themselves over how to live Christian lives. Through all this disunity, it would be very easy to lose one’s hope for what awaited someday.

This revelation, however, assures them that Jesus has not led them astray – he is the Lamb that is also the shepherd (v. 17). Look at the diversity of the multitude in this passage. People are gathered together in love around the God that loves them – all while still being diverse (v. 9)! They need not look the same, speak the same language and have the same culture in order to come together in love. Jesus taught them well, and God assures them that it will all work out one day.

God has not led us astray either. We struggle with the same disunity the first Christians faced, from inside the church as well as outside it. This revelation is also for us, assuring us that loving God and loving one another will prevail. We will remain a great diverse multitude of people who have different values and opinions about a lot of things, but our differences are no match for the God who created, saved and redeemed us.

Where are you letting your differences with someone else get in the way of loving God and loving one another?

In what ways does diversity improve how you love God and one another?

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

We read this psalm on All Saints’ Day and it brings to mind the question: What makes someone a saint? Traditionally, it was more common to think of saints as being those humans who somehow transcended the bounds of mere humanity, full of its brokenness and sinfulness. Some contemporary views on saintliness share that all people who faithfully aspire to follow Christ’s way are saints in their own unique ways.

This psalm is attributed to David, a man who was filled with flaws, sins and brokenness. David is highly revered not because he never made mistakes but rather because, despite how tragically he fell short sometimes, his deep love for God led him to keep trying. He recognized that God was present and active in his life, nurturing him, teaching him and loving him. David praised God for all the blessings in his life, setting an example for a saintly life.

We are not going to be perfect. We may try and try to get it right and still fail sometimes. Fortunately, what makes us saints is not that we are flawless; what makes us saints is that God is present in our lives and loves us. Our job is to pick ourselves – and each other – up, dust ourselves off and keep trying our best. We are blessed because our souls cry out and are heard by our God (v. 6). We need not fear, because we are delivered by our God (v. 7). We are saints because we are redeemed by our God (v. 22).

When facing adversity, when do you turn to God for support and when do you face it alone?

When do you praise God and when do you praise yourself?

1 John 3:1-3

Have you ever known someone and, after meeting that person’s family, really come to understand them in a whole new way? Maybe some interesting quirk suddenly makes more sense. Maybe some skill or struggle that person has is clearer now that you know these important people of influence. As the children of God, the same situation applies. The author of 1 John knows that the actions and motivations of Christians must seem very strange unless you come to know something about God (v. 1).

The problem is that there is such a diverse array of opinions about who God is and what God wants, which leads to an equally diverse array of what Christians are and what they think God wants them to look like. We do not really know who knows it better than whom or who has it more right than the others. As the author points out, there is much that is still so unclear to us (v. 2a).

One thing we do know, however, is that, just as the people who raised us influenced the people we grow to become, our creator has influenced who we have grown to become. We are all, regardless of our vast differences, made in the image of God (v. 2b). Any attempt at understanding other people should start with the recognition that they are children of God.

Can you think of someone who is so different that you cannot “get” him or her? Where do you see God in that person?

What about God’s influence do you wish people to see in you?

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are often quoted, so let us look at them in the context of All Saints’ Day. Jesus does not want people to think about what will gratify them in the immediate moment, but to think about the bigger picture instead. These Beatitudes are a lesson for the crowd about coming to see the blessedness around them as a great opportunity to change the world.

Mercy, forgiveness, compassion, justice and fairness are not the kinds of things to strive for if we want material gain lavished upon ourselves in the immediacy of life now; they are the virtues for which we strive to achieve the grander prize of a better world. Jesus is continuing a long line of teachers and prophets who explained that we receive what matters most preciously by seeking to give rather than take. Giving away our love does not diminish the supply, but adds to it.

We have all that we need to be saints to those around us. When we are merciful to others, we create a world that is more merciful – for ourselves and everyone else. When we can love ourselves and love others for who they are, honestly, openly and as children of God, we create a world that is more loving. When we do these things, we are joining in the work of all of the saints, past and present, who have come before us to make this world the place God created it to be.

When have you been merciful when you did not need to be? Gracious when you did not need to be?

How does your perspective change if you see yourself as a saint?

Bible Study: 20 Pentecost, Proper 25 (A)

October 26, 2014

Johanna Young, Deacon Formation Program, Diocese of Massachusetts

“Jesus 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.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

This passage finds us at the end of the story of Moses and marks the end of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah. It comes at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, often referred to as the Second Law.

Moses sees the Promised Land from the top of Mount Nebo (verse 1). That his last moments are on a mountaintop may remind us of the other mountaintop experiences where Moses met God face to face. But here it is different. It signals the end Moses’ role in the formation of a new community, the people of Israel.

Let’s focus for a moment on the phrase “servant of the Lord,” abad in Hebrew. During the long journey to the Promised Land there were many times when Moses was probably tempted to call it quits. How easy it would have been to say, “I can’t take it anymore! Too much complaining!” However, he gave into the temptation to seek some glory for himself (Numbers 20:12) and for that, God decreed he would not enter the Promised Land. The final story of Moses shows that even great people, who may seem larger than life to us, are, in the end, human. We can take some comfort in that. At the end of the day, it’s the journey that is important. Now Joshua picks up where Moses left off as abad, “servant of the Lord.”

Discuss what characteristics “a servant of Lord,” should possess. What seeds do servants of the Lord plant that inch us closer to the Promised Land.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Psalm 90 begins Book Four in the Psalter. According to scholar J. Clinton McCann, the psalm itself is divided into four parts: verse 1-2, God; verses 3-6, the frailty of all life; verses 7-11 (not included in the reading), humankind’s disobedience; and verses 12-17, a plea for God’s mercy and compassion.

Although it is the only psalm attributed to Moses, biblical scholars do not general believe he authored it. The theme of finitude, recall Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34, is carried over in today’s psalm. The psalmist reminds us that we are all dust (recalls Genesis 3) and that we are all on the clock. The clock is ticking; the grass will not stay green forever. This is not the carpe diem philosophy of Ecclesiastes (3:12-13), but an occasion to petition for God’s compassion and mercy while we are alive. Again the word servant, in Hebrew abad, is repeated in verse 13.

Why did the lectionary leave out verses 7-12, and what affect does that have on the reading of the psalm? How do you reconcile God as refuge (v. 1) and God’s affliction and subsequent suffering (verse 15)?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

What are the best practices for building up a Christian community and a ministry of love of one’s neighbor? Paul spells it out in today’s epistle to the community in Thessalonia, using himself and his companions as examples.

First of all, community builders must speak boldly and with courage, according to Paul. In Philipi, Paul’s message, which was spoken boldly and with courage, was met with great opposition. Speaking “truth to power,” as Gandhi phrased it, is often not accepted by those who want to maintain the status quo.

Second, community builders must have integrity. In the first-century, Greco-Roman world, leaders were tested for their strength of character. A community builder who seeks after his/her own glory or personal gain can rip a community apart.

Finally, community builders are “soul-sharers,” as Richard Ascough describes it in his commentary on Working Preacher. As “soul-sharers,” we are called to alleviate suffering in the world, caring for the vulnerable and needy of the community, much as a nurse nurtures the children in her care. In Paul’s time, it was common for the elite to have nurses, nannies, care for their children, and they would remain in close relationships into their adulthood.

“Paul calls each one of us to interact in our present Christian community with bold speech personal integrity, and soul-sharing” (Richard Ascough, Working Preacher, October 26, 2008). What other characteristics of a community builder would you add? How are the characteristics Paul describes to the Thessalonians relevant to today’s church?

Matthew 22:34-46

This week’s passage appears at the end of a series of debates with Sadducees, lawyers, chief priest, elders scribes Pharisees and their followers. Jesus has handily answered all questions, and finally, one of the lawyers asks: “Which commandment is the greatest?” (verse 36). Jesus responds with what Jewish people refer to as the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (See also Deuteronomy 6:4-5.) It expands the first commandment found in Exodus: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We know this as the Golden Rule. Versions of this verse are also found in Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14. This is not, eros, “erotic love,” but agape, “love” in the sense of “compassion” and “mercy.”

In her “Charter for Compassion,” Karen Armstrong points out that many religions have a version of the Golden Rule:

“Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” — Islam, Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13

“One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This the essence of morality. All other activities are selfish desire.” — Hinduis. Ahabharata, Anunsasana Parva 113.8

Jesus affirms these two commands are foundational. David Ewart writes: “As long as we observe both commandments, we can be confident we are on that Godly path. However if we choose to ignore either love, we will soon find ourselves in a spiritual ditch.”

Discuss what spiritual ditches you find yourself in. How might the love of God and neighbor help to dig you out?