Jesus teaches about the two great commandments and then challenges the Pharisees with a question.
On Tuesday I am having a meeting, via Zoom, with other religious leaders from across Barnet. We meet four times a year to discuss issues which affect the different faiths. Sessions always begin by one leader leading a reflection on a text from their scriptures. Questions and discussion then follow as we learn about one another’s faith and in so doing about our own. It’s not about any of us proving who is right. It’s not about any of us silencing the other.
Teaching involves asking questions, not to catch people out, but to encourage us to try and learn new things. Sometimes those questions are posed by a teacher to help the student think about what they are saying differently. Sometimes those questions are posed by the student trying to understand what the teacher is saying. In life the line between the teacher and the student is not so clear. When I am meeting with the leaders of other faiths this week, one is not THE teacher of the rest of us, we are all learning from each other. And we are all open to be questioned. And we will all ask questions.
The pharisees in today’s Gospel passage have just heard that Jesus has silenced their rivals, the Sadducees. Having had the Sadducees silenced they move on Jesus – testing him by asking what the greatest commandment in the law is. Hoping they can silence Jesus and become dominant. And Jesus replies with that classic response which we know so well: ‘“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.’ Jesus then turns to them and begins asking questions too. He is trying to help them to learn more, to understand his teaching, to understand who he is. Jesus is challenging them to understand that the Messiah is both a son of David and a son of God. Both fully human and fully divine. But the Pharisees are so set on competing for dominance, instead of learning, they fall silent and don’t ask any more questions.
How awful it would be not to ask any more questions of a teacher like Jesus, because you don’t know the answer.
I remember when I was at University, A-level students would turn up for interviews, terrified. I remember trying to encourage them, warning them that in the interview they would be asked questions they wouldn’t know the answer to. Because their interviews weren’t there to test how much they knew, if they already knew the answer the interviewer wasn’t much interested and would quickly move on. What the interviewer wanted to see is if the candidate didn’t have an answer could they help them to find one,
could they teach them in that interview, if they could, then they could probably teach them if they gained a place at the university.
The other thing about people being above question. About people being silenced, is that it allows even a seemingly great or good person to go unchecked. In the reading from Isaiah we are warned against rendering unjust judgement because we defer to the great. Rather, we should love our neighbour as ourselves, reproving them when they make an error. At the beginning of October IICSA released their report into the handling of abuse in the Church of England. The report is damning and rightly so. Highlighting the failure of the church to put victims first. And drawing attention to the failure to ask robust questions. As a result we communally failed the very people we should be caring for. It would be easy to say that the church shouldn’t be trusted to care for the vulnerable, but that simply fails to learn from the tough questions. As an institution, we need to be willing to learn, to challenge those in supposed authority.
No priest, or bishop, no President or Prime Minister, no teacher, no person should be beyond questioning. God’s law, to love our neighbours as ourselves, is so well rehearsed, and so well known, it is easy to think it is a lovely warm comfy type of law. But truly trying to love everyone is hard. Truly living out that love in the way we treat everybody is no easy task. It demands a justice and integrity which is often beyond us achieving, but it is what we are called to strive for. It is what the God who created us did as we were loved into being. It is what Jesus did as he spread out his arms on the cross to hold us all in his embrace. It is a love that demands we ask hard questions of ourselves, knowing that we are not alone, that God is with us as we die to sin and rise to new life. And it is a love that will bare with us and lift us up.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Morning Prayer in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Christian Meditation Wednesdays at 9.10am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
Please note that Public worship has been suspended, you can therefore participate in these services via Facebook live stream
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