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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:34-36

Marked Down From Ten to Two


The Nearest Thing to Wholesale

Everyone loves a sale. We all would like to pay less for what we purchase. We are attracted to the 30% off ads. In a few weeks shoppers will cram into the malls the day after Thanksgiving hoping to cash in on the early Christmas sales. We are especially attracted to electronic gadgets, appliances and video components if we think that we are paying wholesale. You cannot get any thing lower than wholesale, right?

Gordon Hartunian the founder of ABC Warehouse knows that everyone loves a good deal. His stores sell everything from appliances to power tools by telling the customers that their prices are the closest thing to wholesale. Gordy, as he is affectionately known in his radio ads is quite successful. ABC Warehouse is the only regional store in the state of Michigan.

Given how much we all appreciate saving on anything, whether it is money or time, it is not surprising that the Scripture passage before us is one of the more popular ones in the NT. The answers that Jesus gives take the entire law, all 613 rules, and condense them down to just two commandments. That is a huge savings. Even if we limit our count to the ten commandments it is an 80% reduction. We might conclude that since department store sales increase when the merchandise goes on sale we would see an increase in religious and moral living. Unfortunately, the correlation does not hold. As we consider this passage, we need to ask ourselves why this does not hold true. If we have less rules and regulations to follow than the ancient Jews, why is it that we have such a difficult time loving God and our neighbor?

Three to Know

Today's passage is the last of three encounters between Jesus and the religious authorities. Once again Matthew is using the three questions as a memory aide. The events may or may not have happened in this sequential order. Three encounters follow three parables. Matthew records Jesus telling the stories of the Two Sons, the Landlord and the Tenants, and the Wedding Banquet. These parables highlighted the insincere religious attitudes of the Pharisees. Then Matthew records Jesus' response to three questions. The first concerned marriage and the afterlife, the second addressed the issue of taxes and the final one the Law.

The question itself may seem rather innocuous to a casual reading of the passage but Matthew wants us to know that it is a very important one. The Pharisees know that Jesus just put down the Sadducees decided to attempt to lure him into a contradiction. Matthew write “...an expert in the law tested him.” They are not sincere learners hoping to deepen their understanding of the Law. This is not a harmless debate among friends. They are not prepping for an appearance on Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jesus will not be serving as one of their life lines. This is a test. With his answer Jesus exposes one of the weakness of the Pharisaical system. Theological knowledge does not produce righteous living. It is easy to know than to do.

Knowing is not Doing

From kindergarten to the Phd, our educational system assumes that students not only want to learn but are willing and able to take what they have learned and apply it to their professional careers and/or their personal lives in a moral and ethical manner. The glaring incongruity inaccuracy of this assumption has been a major cause of our financial crises. Over the past few years some really brilliant men and women have committed some incredibly stupid and unethical business transactions. Robert Sternberg, a researcher in human intelligence has also pointed out that over the past three decades, IQs have been steadily rising at the rate of 3 points per decade worldwide. Yet,

In the 36,525 days of the twentieth century, 100 million to 160 million civilians lost their lives in massacres. That's an average of more than 3,000 innocent deaths per day, and the pace has not slackened in the new millennium. Statistically speaking, September 11 was an ordinary day.1

In the church, we have assumed that we, unlike the secular world, have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into truth but also to empower us in living the spiritual life. Therefore a correlation should exist between righteous living and Biblical knowledge. Pastors craft nifty six point sermons to instruct their flock in how to apply simple Biblical wisdom to immensely complicated psychological and social problems. They support each nugget of truth with two or three Scripture passages. Their listeners feverishly jot down the pastor's ideas and references on the note pages provided. Then after all the preaching is said and done and all the note taking is completed we wonder why the church is not that much different from the secular community.

In a recent poll over 2500 Protestants were surveyed on the spiritual life. There were people who attended church at least once a month. From that group only 23% gave a strongly agree response to the question, “When I come to realize that some aspect of my life is not right in God’s eyes, I make the necessary changes.” Also, over 47% of the respondents stated to just “just going through the motions” often during a worship service. Both questions reaffirm my major premise: the doing of the Christian life is much more difficult than the knowing.

Capturing The Zeal

Each week I receive at least one mailing about a upcoming conference or seminar about some aspect of ministry. I could easily fill all of my free time learning about how to counseling people with AIDS or about the resources available to help those going through financial problems. I could discover new information about issues related to global missions. I could listen to lectures about the persecution in China and what the American church should be doing to support those who are in prison for their faith. I could attend any number of session that would give me more information about ministry but I do not need more information about pastoral ministry. I do not need to know what I should be doing. That is not because I am particularly brilliant or well read in the field of pastoral ministry. My struggle is developing the desire to implement what I already know.

The same is true in the Christian life. We know that we should be loving God. We know that we should be loving our neighbor. We even have a few ideas on how we should be doing these two commandments. The greater challenging before us is nurturing the zeal to actual do both. How do we nurture that longing as the psalmist writes? How do we develop a thirst for the living water?. How can we motivate ourselves to “press on toward the prize” or “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” as Paul would say?

The first step toward loving God requires us to acknowledge that we have stepped away from Him. The book of Genesis tells us that after man and woman ate the fruit of good and evil they saw that they were naked. Having lost their state of innocence and feeling more than a little exposed, they made for themselves fig leaves. A short time later God entered the Garden and the man and the woman hid. Their temporary coverings could not shield them from the penetrating eye of God. When God could not find them he called to the man, “Where are you?” Man first recorded dialog with God is a statement of confession. The man did not say, “We are here” or “We are coming.” The man said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Reconciliation between God and humanity cannot take place until we admit that we have separated ourselves from God and that we have lost our desire to seek him or our neighbor.

The second step in nurturing our desire to love God and our neighbor is to listen to the feedback of others. Interaction with another Christian other than our spouse is absolutely essential for growth in the Christian life. Without the feedback of others we can easily fall victim to self deception. This is best explained by the Johari Window. Created in 1955 by two psychologist, the Johari Window tells us that personal awareness can be divided into four different areas—open, blind, hidden or unknown. The OPEN area is that part of our personality that is both known to ourselves and known to others. For example, most of you know that I am a enjoy playing golf. However few if any of you know that Arnold Palmer was my boyhood hero. That is part of my HIDDEN area. It is know by me but not by you. Now if you had a trained eye and were out playing with me two weeks ago you could tell me why I kept hooking the ball when my natural swing is to slice it. I am BLIND to that side of my golf game. And there are things in my golf swing and personal that is screwing up my game but those things are in the HIDDEN area because they are not known by you or me.

We cannot grow as a person unless we are willing to receive feedback from other in matters that relate to our BLIND area. Maybe we do not notice that we become extremely aggregated when someone says negative things about a politician we support. Or maybe we have never consider how much money we could save and donate to Hospitality House by packing our lunch instead of eating at a restaurant so often. Through the voice of another person we could be inspired to living in a manner that is more consistent with what we believe.

The third step in nurturing our desire to love God may seem like a contradiction to some, or a circular argument at best to others. The third step requires us to strive to capture the zeal. Feelings our not separate entities that take control of us. Feelings can be produced though our thoughts or are deeds. If we wait for our feelings to compel us to action we may never perform a loving action toward another person. We will more likely be overwhelmed with the love of God in worship service then asleep in bed. We are more likely to put aside are prejudices toward the homeless while we sit with them during lunch and listen to their stories. We are more likely to develop a passion to pray for the lost while praying than watching a baseball game.

College and professional sports teams understand this concept. During a losing streak, coaches do not wait for their players to develop a desire to practice. They practice. They preform drills week after week, not because the drills are fun or are particularly rewarding. The players do the drills because they know that the exercises will prepare them for the game. On Monday or Tuesday morning they may not even care whether they win or lose their next game but they know that their daily practice will nurture that desire to play competitively come the day of the game

The desire to perform the doings of the Christian life is nurtured more by doing the spiritual practices each day, than by lazy neglect, wishful thinking or divine inspiration. Richard Baxter wrote that God gives us many things without our merit, “...yet he will not give them without our earnest seeking and labor.”(Saints Everlasting Rest, VII:1) Charles Spurgeon was once asked by a young man if the preacher would pray that God would help him rise each morning for pray. Spurgeon told the young man that he did not need his prayers as much as the habit of putting one leg in front of the other until he was out of bed. As Paul told the Ephesians there comes a point when we must work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.

The two greatest commandments are really not the closest thing to wholesale religion. All the other rules and regulations are just a footnote to one or the other. The are rather simple to memorize but incredibly difficult to live. Yet it is their living that we find eternal life.


1http://www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2004_09/hate.html

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