Bishop Charles Gore’s statue outside Birmingham Cathedral … ‘… Hang all the law and the prophets’? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Sunday next, 29 October 2017, is the Fifth Sunday before Advent (Proper 25). The readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary, and set out in the Church of Ireland Directory, for next Sunday are:
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; and Matthew 22: 34-46.
The readings are available by clicking this link.
The last Sunday in October may also be observed as Bible Sunday, using these readings:
Nehemiah 8: 1-4 (5-6), 8-12; Psalm 119: 97-104 or 119: 105-112; Colossians 3: 12-17; Matthew 24: 30-35.
Whichever set of readings you decide to use next Sunday, you may constantly ask how to make connections with the different readings each Sunday. You may decide, for example, to preach on the Gospel reading. But it may be one of the other readings that has caught the imagination of the people you need to reach. Making connections helps to bring people on the journey with you.
So, these notes include ideas for the other readings next Sunday.
Kerry Crescent in Calne, Wiltshire, recalls a FitzMaurice family title and a story told by Charles Gore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Charles Gore (1853-1932) was one of the great, almost formidable theologians at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was the editor of Lux Mundi (1881), an influential collection of essays; the founder of the Community of the Resurrection (1892); and the first Bishop of Birmingham (1905). He was also from a well-known Irish family; his brother was born in Dublin Castle, his father, Charles Alexander Gore, was brought up in the Vice-Regal Lodge, now Arás an Uachtaráin, and his mother was from Bessborough, Co Kilkenny.
But formidable theologians are also allowed to play pranks on the unsuspecting. And it is told that Charles Gore loved to play a particular prank on friends and acquaintances when he was a canon of Westminster Abbey.
He would enjoy showing visitors the tomb of one of his collateral ancestors, the 3rd Earl of Kerry, with an inscription that ends with the words, highlighted in black letters and in double quotation marks: ‘hang all the law and the prophets.’
On closer inspection, he would point out, the words are preceded by ‘... ever studious to fulfil those two great commandments on which he had been taught by his divine Master ...’ ‘…hang all the law and the prophets.’
A more recent Irish-born theologian of international standing, Professor David Ford, sees these two commandments as the key, foundational Scripture passage for all our hermeneutical exercises.
David Ford was born in Dublin, and from 1991-2015 he was the Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. Speaking at the Dublin and Glendalough Clergy Conference in Kilkenny some years ago , he was asked about some of the hermeneutical approaches he outlines in his recent book, The Future of Christian Theology (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). He said that if the two great commandments are about love, and God is love, then no interpretation is to be trusted that goes against love.
And he reminded the clergy present of Augustine’s great regula caritatis, the rule of love. If love is the rule, then the ‘how’ of reading scripture together is as important as the ‘what.’
In The Future of Christian Theology, he says: ‘Anything that goes against love of God and love of neighbour is, for Christian theology, unsound biblical interpretation.’
In other words, this passage, and its parallels in the other synoptic Gospels, provide for David Ford the key to understanding all Biblical passages.
Putting the Gospel reading in context:
When preparing a sermon or reflection on a particular Gospel passage in the lectionary readings, it is always important to look at its context, not only in its setting within the readings, taking account, for example, of the Gospel readings the Sunday before and the Sunday after, but also in the context of the other readings that are being heard that Sunday.
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
The Old Testament reading next Sunday is the final chapter of the Book Deuteronomy and the conclusions of the Law or the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The wandering in the wilderness, and after 40 long years the people can now look to the promise of the future as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
However, Moses has been told that he is going to die without entering the Promised Land because he ‘broke faith’ with God when the people demanded water and God provided it (see Numbers 20: 1-13). God shows Moses the whole Land from a mountain near the northern end of the Dead Sea. Moses, now an old man, dies suddenly in Moab (verse 6). We are told he dies as he lived: ‘at the Lord’s command’ (verse 5). Joshua is his successor and is commissioned.
Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17:
The first section (verses 1-6) contrast God’s eternity with the short and troubled span of human life. The second part (verses 13-17) seeks God’s compassion and mercy.
I Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Saint Paul turns his back on the way other teachers and philosophers of his day seek popularity for “impure motives” and through ‘trickery.’ He wants neither ‘flattery’ nor his own advantage. Instead, he has been gentle and caring, sharing all that he has. In other words, instead of self-love, he has lived and worked in the love of God and the love of others.
Matthew 22: 34-46
In Saint Mark’s Gospel, these two commandments are cited in this way when one of the scribes comes and asks Christ which is the first commandment of all? (Mark 12: 28-31).
In Saint Luke’s Gospel, these two commandments are given in answer to a certain lawyer who stands up, tempts him, and asks him what he shall do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10: 25-28).
In this Gospel reading, the two great commandments come as part of a reply to a debate within the series of dialogues in the Temple in the week leading up to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
The Sadducees believed that human life ended with our physical death. Some of them have argued with Jesus, and have tried to show him, by quoting from the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, what they see as the absurdity of belief in the Resurrection.
Christ has told them that they neither understand the ‘power of God’ (verse 29), to transform us into a new way of being alive when risen. Nor have they understood the purpose of the Scriptures.
The Pharisees now ‘test’ (verse 35) Christ by asking him a question that was often debated at the time (verse 36): of the 613 laws in the Torah, which is most important?
The first part of Christ’s answer would not have surprised them.
However, the second part of his answer, his understanding that a ‘second’ commandment (verse 39) is of equal weight (“like it”) would have surprised them, for it was considered not be important.
Here Christ is citing Leviticus 19: 18, which says: ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ And he says this commandment is of equal importance with the first.
Yet, as Daniel Harrington says in his commentary on this Gospel (p. 315), and as Sarah Dylan Breuer writes in agreement with him, ‘there is no hint in the Bible of the modern psychological emphasis on the need for self-esteem and the idea that one must love oneself before loving others.’
She says self-esteem is a fine and people have benefited a great deal from the insights of modern psychology. But these interior emotional states were not a focus in first-century Mediterranean cultures.
The earliest Christian commentary on this text after the Gospels is James 2: 1-17, which may be a major help in discussing this.
When Christ says ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ he is essentially saying, ‘treat all those around you as you would your own flesh and blood’ – as sisters and brothers in one family, deserving of equal honour and special care.
It is worth noticing that in that passage, James treats ‘faith’ and ‘love’ almost as synonyms.
Developing a right relationship of actively loving God and our fellow humans provides the key to understanding the Scriptures and to our faith.
The Pharisees regarded themselves as the experts in Biblical interpretation. But Christ now asks them some questions (verse 42).
At the time, the general understanding and expectation among people was for a political ‘Messiah’ who was descended from David, ‘the son of David’.
At the time it was also thought the David was inspired by the Spirit to write the Psalms. But in verses 43-44, Christ asks: ‘How is ... that David’ refers to ‘him’ (the Messiah) as ‘Lord’ (overlord), in writing ‘The Lord’ God (Yahweh) ‘said to my Lord’ (in other words, David’s overlord, whom Christ present in this dialogue as the Messiah) ‘sit ...’
So (verse 45), how can the Messiah be both David’s son and his overlord?
While in English and Greek, the word ‘Lord’ (κύριος, kurios) occurs twice, Christ may have quoted Psalm 110: 1 in Hebrew; there the words are different. He was probably not unique in taking ‘my Lord’ there to be the Messiah, for a political Messiah would defeat his ‘enemies’.
And so, the Pharisees too are shown not to understand the Scriptures. And the two great commandments certainly do not provide them with the hermeneutical key to understanding the whole of Scripture, as Professor David Ford would want us to have.
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Post Communion Prayer:
God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12:
563: Commit your ways to God.
567: Forth, in thy name, O Lord I go.
653: Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.
657: O God of Bethel, by whose hand.
323: The God of Abraham priase.
681: There is a land of pure delight.
Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17:
6: Immortal, invisible, God only wise.
537: O God, our help in ages past.
I Thessalonians 2: 1-8:
645: Father, hear the prayer we offer.
567: Forth, in thy name, O Lord I go.
653: Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.
593: O Jesus, I have promised.
639: O thou who camest from above.
662: Those who would valour see (He who would valour see).
372: Through all gthe changing scenes of life.
529: Thy hand, O God, has guided.
491: We have a gospel to proclaim.
Matthew 22: 34-46:
515: ‘A new commandment I give unto you.’
250: All hail the power of Jesu’s name.
517: Brother, sister, let me serve you.
520: God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed.
523: Help us to help each other, Lord.
495: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love.
525: Let there be love shared among us.
594: O Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
281: Rejoice, the Lord is King!
597: Take my life, and let it be.