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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1–12, 1 Thessalonians 2:1–13 & Matthew 22:34–46

In last week’s sermon I talked about the notion of life being a journey rather than a destination, and I finished the sermon by saying that life as a Christian is a journey to become more Christ like. And that by living our lives according to the example of Jesus himself, we embark on the journey of forming a closer and deeper relationship with God.

Our first reading this morning, from the Book of Deuteronomy, points towards a similar journey. Today’s passage marks the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, which itself marks the end of the Pentateuch; the five-book unit comprising the first five books of the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Historically, the Pentateuch was believed to have been written by none other than Moses himself, who is unrivalled in Jewish tradition. The Book of Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses, whom God takes to the top of Mount Nebo to see the whole of the Promised Land displayed before him.

This is the same land that God had promised the patriarchs of Israel – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – that their descendants would inhabit. But the Pentateuch ends without Moses, or the people of Israel, entering the Promised Land. The story seems to be incomplete; the journey of the people of Israel has not finished; and it will not be finished even when they enter into and conquer the Promised Land, which is of course the land of Canaan. Because their journey has not just been a physical one, to inherit land that had been promised to them by God, but it had also been a spiritual journey; to be in a relationship with God.

We know from the books of the Old Testament which follow the Pentateuch, especially the books of the prophets, who were God’s messengers, that the people of Israel struggled with this spiritual journey to maintain a relationship with God. The prophets talk repeatedly of the people of Israel turning away from a relationship with God to worship foreign gods and idols. Various prophets suggest that significant historical events, such as the conquering of the Northern tribes of Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century before Christ, and then the exile of Judah in Babylon, were the result of the people not being in relationship with God.

This was still the case in the time of Jesus, when the people of Israel were dispersed throughout the various regions of the Roman Empire and lived under Roman rule. Jesus himself announced that he had come to ‘rescue the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24), meaning that he had come to restore the people of Israel to a relationship with God. But of course, as we know through the passages of Matthew’s Gospel, that we have read during recent Sundays, Jesus was frustrated in his attempts to do this by the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders.

In today’s gospel passage, having previously thwarted several attempts by the religious leaders to discredit and undermine him, Jesus is once again put to the test, this time by one of Pharisees who is also a lawyer. The lawyer asks him which is the greatest commandment in the law, which of course means the Law of Moses, which is contained in the books of the Pentateuch. Jesus therefore quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:5), “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, but he also adds, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus also says, “On these two hang all the law and the prophets”.

With this last statement, Jesus suggests that all of the commandments given to Moses by God, and all of the messages the prophets had delivered from God to the people of Israel, could be summarised in the commands to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’, and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.

Having once again stumped the religious leaders with his answer to a question designed to discredit and undermine him, Jesus now goes on the offensive and asks the Pharisees a question of his own. The question he asks is based on the belief of the Pharisees that the Jewish Messiah would be the son of King David. In the time of Jesus, it was still the belief among the Jewish people that the Psalms had been written David. So Jesus quotes from Psalm 110 where David, assumed to be the author of the psalm, writes, ‘The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Jesus argues that if David refers to the Messiah as Lord, then the Messiah must be more than just the son of David, which is an allusion to the fact that the Messiah is in fact the Son of God. The Messiah is, of course, Jesus.

This is the key message of all of Paul’s letters; Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And the gospel of God, that Paul refers to in today’s passage from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are all brought into a relationship with God if we believe in Jesus. Paul states that he has been entrusted by God to deliver this message to the Thessalonians. He encourages the Thessalonians to “lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory”.

As Christians today, we are also encouraged to “lead a life worthy of God”, which brings me back once again to where I finished my sermon last Sunday, when I talked about life being a journey. A life as a disciple of Christ is a journey to become more Christ like. In living our lives according to the example of Jesus himself, we embark on the journey of forming a closer and deeper relationship with God. We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind, and we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves.

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