Lent Devotional 52


'So what's your all-time favourite song, then?' I listened as John put his friend on the spot.

They had been discussing music of various sorts and styles. This was a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

'Let me play safe,' the friend replied. I'm not going for some- thing new. I'll stick with "Yesterday", by Paul McCartney.'

John was shocked. 'I thought it would be something by Schubert,' he complained. 'You're always on about him.'

'Yes, I know,' came the reply. 'But actually I think "Yesterday" draws together the whole tradition of earlier song, and say so much in a short space. It's beautiful, and it's packed full of meaning.'

The debate will go on. Some readers will no doubt be as shocked as John was. But the explanation was a good one. We're not talking about a whim here, a sudden passing fancy. We're talking about something that draws a much larger picture together and holds it there.
Questions like this come in many shapes and sizes. What's the best golf course in the world? Which is the finest Shakespeare play? Which Scottish mountain gives you the best walk? But one of the most famous, a question repeated in various forms throughout Jewish literature, is the one the Pharisees asked Jesus: 'Which commandment in the law is the greatest?'

Now we note that this isn't simply a question about the relative importance of the commands against stealing, murder, adultery and so on. The law — Israel's Torah — was not just a list of rules to make life a bit less unpleasant. It was the God-given blueprint for the national life, the life that would make Israel the light of the world. It was, so many Jews believed, a direct revelation from God himself, thus making the Torah almost divine in itself. And part of the point of Torah, for the Pharisees of the time, was that any Jew, anywhere in the world, could follow it. Most Jews couldn't get to the Temple in Jerusalem except at the most once or twice in a lifetime. Any Jew could study, learn and follow Torah.

Jesus' answer to the question was straight down the line. 'Love God with all your heart, soul and mind,' he said, 'and love your neighbour as yourself.' As far as it went, as an answer to the question of the time, it was beyond reproach. These are central to the Old Testament as well as the New, and contain within them pretty much everything else the law prescribes.

But what happens if we read them in the light of Easter?

We suddenly discover that something Matthew has often hinted at comes true in a new way. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it. But how did he fulfil it? Not by laboriously obeying all the biblical commands, one by one, ticking them off on a mental list. Rather, by doing and being all that Israel was called to do and be. He became the defining point, the blueprint and yardstick, for the people of God. In his death on the cross he offered God the full love, obedience and devotion of heart, mind and soul to which Israel had been called. And in that same death he reached out in love to neighbours far and near, to the whole world for whom he was dying. He became not just the teacher of a new, fulfilled Torah. He was the fulfilled Torah in person.
The resurrection of Jesus therefore declares that the law, as summed up here, has been fulfilled to the uttermost — by Jesus himself. And, precisely because of the resurrection, it can be fulfilled anywhere and everywhere. Followers of Jesus don't need to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. They can go to Jesus, which is what they do whenever they love God with heart, mind and soul, and their neighbours as themselves.

And when people say, as they will, that these things are very difficult, then Jesus is on hand, with them always to the close of the age, to explain that the more they look at him and learn from him, the more they will discover what it means to love God, and the more energy and goodwill they will find welling up inside themselves to love their neighbours as well. Jesus' resurrection is the greatest demonstration of the love of God for his whole creation, evoking in us an answering love. And when we glimpse God's new world, in which all are invited to share, we look upon our neighbours, of all shapes, sorts and sizes, with new eyes. These are people for whom Jesus died. These are people we shall learn to love as we love ourselves.

This is what it means to be genuinely human. Easter offers us the direct route to be the people we were made to be. God's people. Jesus' people. People of love.

Gracious Lord Jesus, dying for us and rising again: show us more and more how great the Father's love is for us, so that we may be drawn to love him more and more in return; and show us, for his sake and yours, how to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Matthew 22-33-40