Prayer in Church - Gerard Sekoto (1947)
The Gospel for this Sunday is just seven sentences long, but of great importance. Often, when people are asked to summarize the Christian faith, they say that there are two great commandments – to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself, because Jesus is recorded as saying this in three Gospels -- Matthew, Mark and Luke. However, to think that this summarizes the Christian faith, is an important mistake. That is not what is going on in these passages.
Jewish scribes asked Jesus to pinpoint the crucial commandments among all those that were to be found in their scriptures – several hundred in fact. He picks just two – one from Deuteronomy, the other from Leviticus – and declares that everything else in the Jewish law and prophets hangs on these two commandments. He declares that he has not come to abolish the law, but he does not actually say that they summarize his own faith. In contrast to the other three, John’s Gospel does not record this episode. Rather, John tells us that Jesus offered his own disciples a third, and new, great commandment – ‘that you love one another’. As faithful Jews, their love of God and neighbor was something that could be taken for granted. What was to mark them out as followers of Christ is their special love for each other.
Churches in the New Jerusalem Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943)Given the divisions, persecutions and mutual contempt that have so often marred the history of the Church – and still do – it is this third, distinctively Christian commandment that has proved very much harder to live by, virtually impossible in fact. The judgment of history, then, seems to make the Christian faith a hopeless undertaking. But the reading from Revelation reminds us to place our hopes in a future world that God has promised, not a world that human beings, however well intentioned, will make. It is God who makes all things new -- in ways that human beings find hard to discern. This means we must wait until ‘the home of God is among mortals’ before we can expect ‘a new heaven and a new earth’.