Reflection for the fifth Sunday before Advent

Matthew 22: 34-46

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus 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 neighbour 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.

Reflection for the fifth Sunday before Advent

Have you ever had a conversation with somebody and came away scratching your head and wondering what on earth they were talking about? Some people seem to talk in riddles. I have a friend like that, and although he can be very interesting, sometimes he expresses himself in such a cryptic way that I feel I need an interpreter!

The bible can be a bit like that. We can read a passage, but cannot make sense of it no matter how many times we read over it. However, it is worth the effort to wrestle with some of those difficult passages if we want to really learn what it is about. Today, which is observed as Bible Sunday, is a reminder of the importance of scripture in the life of the church.

The exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees in the second part of our gospel reading is one of those passages that involves head scratching. Jesus quotes words from Psalm 110 and asks ‘How can David, (the psalmist) call the messiah Lord, if the messiah is to be David’s son’ as the Pharisees had stated.

This conversation is all about the kind of messiah people expected and understanding the kind of messiah Jesus really was. ‘Son of David’ was one of the messianic terms people applied to Jesus. The blind men at Jericho addressed Our Lord in that way and so did the crowd when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. People expected another King David, a warrior who would conquer and defeat their enemies restoring their national pride and fortune. This is what the Pharisees believed, but Jesus was not destined to become a political or military leader. He came to establish a kingdom based on self-giving love, which he would demonstrate on the cross.

Love is the essence of the message of the bible. Jesus declared that the whole of scripture, the law and the prophets, could be summed up in the commandment to love God with every part of our being and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We often hear the bible misused to justify all sorts of extreme views. The yardstick by which we test those views, is whether they conform to those two great commandments to love.

Let me give you an example from a recent TV news programme. A protester in the USA objected to wearing a face mask citing the bible, saying that God breathed into Adam and gave him breath and the government were trying to deny her right to breathe by insisting on masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Apart from being completely whacky, this person’s view was entirely selfish, with no concern for the safety of others. Loving our neighbour should result in the opposite to her attitude.

A more serious example is the scourge of racism in our world and the attempts by some to justify it from scripture. Apartheid in South Africa was ‘justified’ in that way. If we truly claim to love God with heart and soul mind, how can we possibly claim not to respect human beings made in the image of God?

Today, as we give thanks to God for his written word, the bible, let us remember that every action, thought and point of view ought to be judged by the litmus test of how they measure up to those two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbour.

Collect for the fifth Sunday before Advent

Blessed Lord,
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. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

God our Father,
Grant to your church unreserved love for You
and unselfish love for all people.
May your love be proclaimed through your church.
Bless this diocese, its people and Pat, our bishop.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

Send a new spirit of love into the disputes between nations and races.
We pray today for the conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan,
in Nigeria and in all places where there is division or unrest.
Where there is suspicion, bring trust;
where there is anger, bring compassion.
We pray that your peace may reign in our world.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

In all that we do or say, in our lives with families, friends and neighbours,
help us to show the love which is demanded from those
who claim to love God. May the love of God rule in our hearts.
We pray for families who are suffering as a result of the current lockdown,
those who are isolated, those who are anxious, those living under stress
and those who have lost jobs or livelihoods.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our country, our government and our health service
as they grapple with the current pandemic.
We pray that the current measures will be successful in preventing
the spread of the virus. We ask that people will respond by caring
and loving their neighbour as themselves.
Protect all who are working in the frontline of our health and public services.
Guide all who are engaged in medical research and in the search for
a vaccine or other medical treatment.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We remember all who are sick, especially those known to us.
We pray for victims of COVID-19, those who are ill in hospitals,
nursing homes, or at home, those undergoing treatment or recovering from surgery. Grant them you strength, peace and healing.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.

2 thoughts on “Reflection for the fifth Sunday before Advent

  1. In these most awful of times, when we can neither visit our families, our friends or attend our Church, we are blessed to received these readings and reflections from Dean Paul and Stephen. God bless everyone and keep us safe.

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