Some people are very concerned that we think about God and faith and the Bible in just the right way.
Our Scripture this morning tells us about a time when the Pharisees tested Jesus.
They were always looking for a way to trick him into saying something “wrong” or blasphemous.
This time they were trying to get Jesus to say that one of God’s commands was greater than all the others.
According to the Pharisees, all of God’s commands were just as important as all the others. Because they all came from God.
Honoring your father and mother was just as important as not lying. Not mixing two different types of fabric was just as important as not killing someone.
The Pharisees believed that all 613 commands found in the Hebrew Scriptures were all equally important. 248 were positive—things like “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 365 were negative—things like “Don’t work on the Sabbath.”
They were waiting for Jesus to say, “Actually, this is the most important,” and they could say, “Gotcha! You’re a blasphemer!”
They think they have him this time: Jesus, what do you think is the most important commandment?
“To love God with all your heart and mind and strength,” a teaching from Deuteronomy.
The Pharisees wanted just one. But Jesus gave them a bonus answer.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” a teaching from Leviticus.
These two commands, Jesus said, capture all of the teachings from the Hebrew Scriptures. Love God and love your neighbor. That’s what God was trying to get across.
That’s what the Bible is all about, Jesus said. Not rules about mixing fabrics or what you can or can’t do on certain days.
And he meant it. He didn’t obey some of the commands. Like not working on the Sabbath. He healed someone on the Sabbath. He worked, a clear violation that got the Pharisees all worked up.
And he spoke with women. And treated them as equals.
And he spoke with foreigners. And treated them as equals.
Serious rule breaking, Jesus.
Jesus didn’t think about the Bible the way they did. He didn’t see Scripture as a list of commands and prohibitions.
He saw it as a record of God’s loving faithfulness to all people, and as an encouragement for us to love God faithfully in return. And to love all people, and even to love ourselves.
Love your neighbor as yourself. That presupposes that we love ourselves.
Something about Jesus’ answer resonated with the Pharisees. They didn’t say, “We got ‘em! Arrest him!” Our Scripture says they gave up asking him questions. Testing him.
I think they realized that Jesus knew something about God that they didn’t know—that they couldn’t know—as long as they held on to their rigid way of thinking.