The Promised Land

On April 3, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to help galvanize striking sanitation workers. He was asked at the last minute to speak at Mason Temple church. As he spoke, he joined Moses on mountain top, and looked over to the promised land. He invited those who listened that night to not loose hope but to keep working for that land. We are invited to join that work too. So, what does that land look like for us?

Our gospel today, Matthew 22:34-46, is another one of these familiar readings. Jesus was not the first rabbi to offer this “new” way of understanding Torah. But it is central to what Jesus taught. By bringing together two texts: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, he makes them equally important, and the basis for reading the whole of Torah (Law). Many understood them as separate requirements. Loving the Lord their God was done through obedience to the Law. Loving our neighbour was then a second requirement – with the added questions around who my neighbour might be. But Jesus makes them equally important and makes loving our neighbour how God is loved. The requirements of the law become how God’s people love God by loving their neighbour and is fulfilled when God is loved through the loving of neighbours. The temptation to separate the two is great. 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. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, he was challenging many of those new requirements imposed by the Catholic church. If we were to join Moses on the mountain top, like Martin Luther King Jr., what would be we see, and what stops us living in the promised land. What needs reforming in our lives today?

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