Our gospel today, Matthew 22:34-46, is another one of these really familiar readings, so familiar we often miss the point. Here we see Jesus at work offering his new yoke, his “new way” of understanding the Torah. Jesus, the master interpreter of Scripture brings together two texts: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and not only makes them equally important, but the basis and grounding for the whole of Torah (Law). What he does is really interesting. Priests and Pharisees would have understood that loving the Lord their God was done through obedience to the Law and through performance of the temple rites. Loving our neighbour was then a second requirement – with the added questions around who my neighbour might be. But by pulling together these two passages from the Torah, Jesus not only makes them equally important, but makes loving our neighbour the means by which God is loved. The requirements of the law are then understood as the way people become people of compassion and mercy. The law is fulfilled when God is loved through the loving of neighbours. This changed everything. And for many it was too hard. The church has regularly drifted back to separating the two commandments and developing a whole new list of requirements by which we make ourselves worthy of God’s love – all of which is way too hard.
This Sunday is also remembered by some as Reformation Day. Celebrated on the last Sunday in October, Reformation Sunday commemorates the Protestant Reformation as well as Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day. It is a religious holiday often celebrated alongside All Hallows' Eve (Halloween), particularly by Lutheran and some Reformed church communities. It is a civic holiday in some German states as well as in Slovenia (since the Reformation contributed profoundly to that nation's cultural development), and Chile.
As Anglicans we do not often think of ourselves as part of the reformation movement. And yet on October 16th we were invited to remember two martyr reformers, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who were burned at the stake on 16 October 1555. (Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake the following day). The reformation is a significant part of our story.
The Reformation can be understood as being all about how we read todays Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s time had separated out these two commandments and developed a whole new system by which people could both earn God’s love and forgiveness and in turn love God. Luther struggled under this burden. One day he read Paul’s letter to the Romans, and he understood that justification was by faith alone. We cannot earn love. He was reformed, and his consequent questioning of church practice and theology sparked a religious and political revolution that changed history and helped shape the church in England. Today we are invited to reflect on whether we have allowed other things to divide these two commandments, and how we need reformation ourselves?