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Proper 25 | Ordinary Time 30, Cycle A

Sunday between October 23 and October 29 inclusive

We see in these texts that we are directed to love God unconditionally, “with our entire heart, with our entire psyche, and with our entire mind.” As we grow in experiences and maturity, we realize that only God is capable of receiving our unconditional love, only God is worthy of it, and only God can handle it. We are to love God in a way that is different from the way in which we love all people and from the way that we love ourselves. We are to give ourselves totally to God, just as the Matthew 22:15-22 text we used this past week puts it with its “But you belong to God.”

We cannot and should not, therefore, give ourselves totally to any other human being, simply because we, and that person as well, already belong to God, to whom we have a prior commitment. Also, unconditional love for another human being would be idolatrous. It would make that person “God” for us, just as unconditional love of one’s self would make one’s self “God” for us. Only God is capable of being God. Only God is worthy of eliciting from us our unconditional love.

Nevertheless, we can and should give ourselves as fully as possible in love to other people, as the Jesus of history did, with the same kind of love that we have for ourselves, as the texts selected for this week indicate. Such giving in love, unconditionally to God and to other people as we love ourselves, will make us excellent people, assets for any community, excellent neighbors for those who live near us, excellent husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees. Such giving in love will also prepare us in a beautifully active way for the Day of the Lord. With this in mind, let us look briefly at each of these texts.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
This story about the death and burial of Moses is a tribute to Moses. In it, Moses is acclaimed as unique in Israel, a person who loved and trusted in God unconditionally and who gave himself as fully as possible in love for other people. Although the tradition existed that Moses could have replaced Abraham as the father of the chosen people of God, Moses is depicted as having had such love for even the most recalcitrant children of Abraham, of whom he was one, that he rejected that honor.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
A superscription that is placed with this psalm is that it is “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” Perhaps the reason for this and for the association of this psalm with the story about the death of Moses given in Deuteronomy 34 is that the psalmist looks back as an old person over life and over the transience of all life other than the life of God. This psalmist suggests we are wise to love only God unconditionally, since only God is immortal, because when we love God unconditionally we are linked to God who is immortal.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Within the Leviticus 19 “Holiness Code” we see an impressive collection of materials, some of which were further condensed into the Ten Commandments. While it is not appropriate for Jews today or Christians today to live their lives in every respect in accordance with some of the commands within this Holiness Code, this chapter of Leviticus provides much information about cultic practices and ethical obligations of the ancient Israelites at an important stage of their development. The chapter is pertinent to the distinction between God, who is totally holy and to be perceived as totally holy, and people, who become holy only because of their association with the Lord God and their obedience to the Lord God. Because the Lord God is totally just and righteous, people are to be just and righteous in their relationships with each other. They are to love each other as they love themselves, and they are to fear and love God unconditionally. They are to be totally subject to the Lord God. They are not to judge the Lord God, but they are to accept the Lord God as their judge.

Psalm 1
The type of person who is said in this psalm to be blessed is the person whose “delight is in the Torah of the Lord,” who “meditates on the Torah day and night.” Such a person will surely love the Lord unconditionally and will love one’s neighbors as that person loves that person’s self. It is significant that such insight, derived by inspiration from Israelite experiences and incorporated into this prominent wisdom psalm, was placed at the beginning of Israel’s canonical hymnbook.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
For the Apostle Paul and the other prominent leaders among the early followers of Jesus to declare their unconditional love for God and along with this to proclaim Jesus as the Christ raised from the dead as their Lord and Savior was to put themselves into a position in which they were subject to persecution, seizure, torture, and death at the hands of zealous advocates of Roman Civil Religion who acclaimed their unconditional love and devotion to the Roman State and to Caesar, their “Lord and Savior.” These advocates of Roman Civil Religion were in powerful positions in the Roman State, and there was no protection against them for Paul and others like Paul. Paul could not write openly about these conditions, for to do so would further jeopardize Paul’s life and the lives of those to whom Paul was writing. Therefore, Paul could only allude to these matters by using hidden transcripts, as he did here in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.

The relationships that Paul had with the people to whom Paul was writing in this text were, in Paul’s own words, relationships in which Paul was “tender” to them, having the kind of love a nursing mother has for her child at her breast. This was indeed an unselfish kind of love, a self-giving love, a caring love, the best kind of love that one human being can have for another.

Matthew 22:34-46
Study of this text within the context of its Synoptic parallels indicates rather clearly the progressive development of the account. There is every reason to think that the heart of this text (Matthew 22:37-39) was expressed by the Jesus of history on various occasions during conversations with other interested and intelligent fellow Jews who explored with Jesus the most important elements within the Torah, as an analysis of the parallel text in Mark 12:28-34a shows.

It would be preferable to limit this pericope to Matthew 22:34-40. To add verses 41-46 to the parallel text in Mark 12:28-34a distracts us from the central theme of the texts selected for this week. The proud portrayal of Jesus in Matthew 22:41-46 as the clever hero of his followers who outwitted the Pharisees is almost certainly a product of the later Jesus tradition. The quotation of Psalm 110:1 in it shows no regard for the meaning of the text in its Psalm 110 setting. Although Matthew 22:41-46 does reveal much information about followers of Jesus during the latter decades of the first century, the message we proclaim should be based as much as possible on the insights and proclamation of the Jesus of history, particularly in instances in which the proclamation added by followers of Jesus (Matthew 22:41-46) is heavily laden with negative anti-Jewish polemic.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen